Sheriff Is Charged With Falsely Accusing Black Newspaper Carrier of Threats
A sitting sheriff in Washington State has been charged with making a false claim that a Black man had driven up to his home and threatened to kill him, prosecutors said.
Sheriff Ed Troyer of Pierce County called 911 in January 2021 to report that he had used his S.U.V. to corner a man who was driving “in and out of driveways” in his neighborhood in Tacoma, the state capital.
“He knows who I am and he threatened to kill me,” Sheriff Troyer, 59, who is white, told the 911 call taker, according to a court document filed by the state attorney general’s office on Tuesday.
Within minutes, 40 officers descended on the neighborhood, their sirens blaring. When they arrived, they approached the driver, Sedrick Altheimer, who kept his hands on the wheel. He told the officers to look at the seat of his car, where copies of The Tacoma News Tribune were piled.
“I am working!” Mr. Altheimer, 25, yelled. “I’m a Black man in a white neighborhood, and I am working!”
Prosecutors said that when officers asked Sheriff Troyer what had happened, he acknowledged that “Altheimer never threatened him.”
No one was arrested that night, and the police let both men go.
But in March, The Seattle Times published a story that quoted Mr. Altheimer and linked to a police report about the incident, infuriating civil rights activists, who filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Troyer. On April 23, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he had asked Attorney General Robert Ferguson to investigate the case because no action had been taken “to initiate a criminal investigation at the local level.”
“So now the state is stepping in,” the governor said then.
On Tuesday, Mr. Ferguson said that Sheriff Troyer, who was elected in November, had been charged with one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant, a misdemeanor charge that carried a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail.
In a statement, Sheriff Troyer, who has worked for the department since 1985, called the charge “a blatant and politically motivated anti-cop hit job.”
“The night of the incident I was doing what I have done for decades — investigate the possibility of criminal activity after neighbors and I had repeatedly become victims of property crime,” he said.
Sheriff Troyer accused Mr. Ferguson of trying to “defund the police” and asked the public to support him in “standing up to bullies in power.”
“I’m built for this challenge and will fight it to the end,” the sheriff said.
He will be arraigned on Nov. 1 and will enter a not guilty plea, said John Sheeran, his lawyer.
“He didn’t make a false statement,” Mr. Sheeran said. “Sheriff Troyer said that night that his life was threatened and he’s maintained that is the case ever since.”
Mr. Altheimer did not immediately respond to messages seeking an interview. He has filed a $5 million legal claim against the county, according to The Seattle Times.
Mr. Altheimer said he began his delivery route at midnight on Jan. 27, according to the court document. He had been working for about two hours, delivering newspapers from a 1995 Geo Prizm, when he saw Sheriff Troyer’s S.U.V. following him. The S.U.V. stopped three times as he stopped to drop off newspapers.
After the third stop, Mr. Altheimer, who had just finished delivering a newspaper, approached Sheriff Troyer’s S.U.V.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Altheimer asked Sheriff Troyer if he was a police officer.
“Troyer did not answer the question. Nor did he identify himself as the sheriff or a law enforcement officer,” according to the court document, a statement of probable cause.
Mr. Altheimer said that “Sheriff Troyer seemed relaxed and was holding a cellphone in his hand.”
Sheriff Troyer asked Mr. Altheimer what he was doing in the neighborhood and if he knew where he was, according to prosecutors. He then accused him of stealing.
“You’re a porch pirate,” Sheriff Troyer said, according to the statement.
Mr. Altheimer walked away from him, and Sheriff Troyer, moving his vehicle again, called out, “Hey, don’t walk away … I have four cops coming,” the statement said.
Mr. Altheimer responded, “Good,” according to the statement. He tried to drive away, but Sheriff Troyer continued to follow him.
When the police arrived, they found the two cars about 50 feet apart, facing each other in a cul-de-sac.
Mr. Altheimer appeared angry and upset as he explained to the police his version of events, according to police body camera footage that was obtained by The Tacoma News Tribune.
“What are we here for?” he yelled, his arms folded in front of him.
“Search my car. There’s newspapers,” he said, cursing and pleading to go back to work.
Mr. Altheimer told the officers that he knew who Sheriff Troyer was because he recognized him from television and because he was in the neighborhood six mornings a week, delivering newspapers.
He told the officers he had approached Sheriff Troyer because he wanted to know why he was following him.
“Nobody made no threats,” said Mr. Altheimer, who told the officers he had five children.
“So what this looks like is a big case of misunderstanding, OK?” the officer told Mr. Altheimer. “I believe you, OK?”
When the police spoke with Sheriff Troyer, he said that “it was clear Altheimer ‘wanted to fight'” when he had approached.
When the officers told him Mr. Altheimer was just delivering newspapers, Sheriff Troyer replied that they should let him go, according to the court document.
The Pierce County Council said in April that it had hired a former United States attorney to conduct a separate, independent investigation into the case to determine, in part, whether Sheriff Troyer had “misused his authority” or violated any criminal law or department policy or regulation. The results of that investigation were expected to be released after the state investigation.
On Tuesday, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that Sheriff Troyer “remains the elected sheriff in full lawful authority and is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”