A Black Lives Matter chapter in Washington state demanded that a white county sheriff resign after he was charged with falsely claiming that a Black newspaper carrier had threatened to kill him.
Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer is charged with one count of false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant, according to charging documents from state Attorney General Robert Ferguson’s office. The misdemeanor charges stem from an incident on Jan. 27, when Troyer followed Sedrick Altheimer along his newspaper route and called 911 claiming that Altheimer had threatened to kill him.
News of the incident prompted the Washington BLM Alliance to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, meet with officials at the Seattle FBI field office and, last week, call for Troyer’s resignation.
Sakara Remmu, the lead strategist for the alliance, said the group plans to request that Troyer be added to the county’s “Brady list” of law enforcement officers whose credibility has been questioned because of misconduct, criminal convictions, untruthfulness and similar acts. Such lists are maintained by local prosecutors and referred to in cases involving law enforcement officers.
“What he did was malicious,” Remmu said. “It’s clear: This sheriff was trying to get an innocent man killed. This is basically a case of swatting, where you are intentionally calling the police and lying, saying that your life is under threat so that the police respond ready to use excessive or deadly force.”
An investigation by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, commissioned by the Pierce County Council, found that Troyer violated several Pierce County Sheriff’s Department policies in the encounter and that “a reasonable person could conclude that Sheriff Troyer exhibited an improper bias in his confrontation with Mr. Altheimer." The 48-page report was released Tuesday.
Altheimer was delivering newspapers along his usual route in Tacoma around 2 a.m. when he noticed Troyer’s personal vehicle, a white Chevrolet Tahoe, following him to several stops, according to Altheimer’s federal lawsuit against Troyer and the county. Altheimer eventually approached Troyer’s vehicle near North 27th Street and Deidra Circle and asked whether he was a police officer, but Troyer, who was off duty, didn’t respond or identify himself as a law enforcement officer, the suit states.
Troyer then asked Altheimer what he was doing and whether he knew where he was before calling him a thief and a “porch pirate,” according to the charging documents. Altheimer ignored the questions and walked away, only to hear Troyer say: “Hey, don’t walk away. … I have four cops coming,” according to the documents.
Troyer is heard in a 911 call describing Altheimer to dispatchers as “a thief that has a garage door opener,” adding that Altheimer was in Troyer’s driveway and had threatened to kill him.
At least 40 officers arrived and swarmed Altheimer’s car, ordering him to keep his hands on the wheel. Officers told Altheimer that Troyer had claimed that Altheimer had threatened to kill him.
“At the scene, he says: ‘He’s lying! He’s lying!’” said Altheimer’s attorney, Vonda Sargent. “Sedrick is traumatized. It was definitely a situation where the sheriff set up a scenario that could have ended in Sedrick’s demise.”
The responding officers confirmed that Altheimer was a newspaper carrier working on his route and determined that no crime had taken place, according to a police report. When Tacoma officers questioned Troyer, he said Altheimer had never threatened him, the police report says.
Troyer has since denied having told police that Altheimer didn’t threaten him, according to his attorney, John Sheeran.
“He didn’t make a false statement,” Sheeran said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “Sheriff Troyer said that night that his life was threatened and he’s maintained that is the case ever since.” Sheeran told The Washington Post this year that Troyer began following Altheimer before he knew he was Black and held that Altheimer had threatened Troyer but that Troyer decided not to pursue charges.
Sheeran didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Troyer, who faces nearly a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if he is convicted, has said the charges are “a blatant and politically motivated anti-cop hit job” by Ferguson, the state attorney general, according to The Seattle Times.
Sargent, Altheimer’s attorney, said her client was “surprised” and “pleased” when he learned that Troyer had been charged with lying, which she said she also believed was appropriate.
“If Troyer had any ounce of decency ... he would resign,” Sargent said. “He can’t be both the defender of truth and justice while engaging in criminal activity. I don’t expect the police to condemn his actions. I expect them to do exactly what they’re doing, and that’s to hold rank.”
Altheimer filed a tort claim against Pierce County in June seeking at least $5 million in damages. And he filed the federal lawsuit late last month seeking damages for trauma and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages and legal fees.
The incident occurred just months after hundreds of protests in cities across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In the year since that summer of protest, Washington legislators have passed laws making it easier to revoke or suspend an officer’s license because of misconduct, requiring police to intervene when fellow officers use excessive force and banning no-knock warrants and chokeholds, among others.
Remmu, of the BLM Alliance, said that the laws are a noble start but that there’s still a long way to go to “actual change.”
“Change is a process, and you have to have more than ‘wokeness,’” Remmu said. “Once you pass laws, you then have to make sure they are implemented, upheld, then you have to defend them so they aren’t changed in the future. Any time the pendulum swings toward progress in this country, it violently swings back to resistance.”