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Sheriff violated policies in encounter with Black newspaper carrier, report says

Jim Brunner and Lewis Kamb, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE — An investigation headed by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran has found Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer violated policies on bias-free policing and other professional standards during a controversial January encounter with a Black newspaper carrier.

The 48-page report, released Tuesday, faulted Troyer’s late-night off-duty decision to follow a car driven by then-24-year old Sedrick Altheimer, and subsequently call in a massive emergency response with claims that Altheimer threatened to kill him.

Moran’s investigation summary said he was “unable to substantiate” Troyer’s threat claims and that “a reasonable person could conclude that Sheriff Troyer exhibited an improper bias in his confrontation with Mr. Altheimer.”

Highlighting the consequences of Troyer’s call, the report added: “It is not hyperbole to state that Mr. Altheimer, who was initially secured at gunpoint, could have been just an unintentional or misperceived gesture away from serious harm or worse by responding officers. The professionalism of the officers who arrived on scene first is commendable. They, too, were put in a very difficult situation as a result of these events.”

An attorney for Troyer said Tuesday he hadn’t thoroughly read through Moran’s findings, but contended the sheriff had acted appropriately during the incident.

The report, commissioned by the Pierce County Council, found Troyer, who is white, violated professional conduct policies against bias-based policing and engaging in law-enforcement activities while off-duty, among others.

 

It concluded Troyer may not have known Altheimer’s race when he first began following him in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, but that he did know it when he called a 911 emergency dispatcher.

The report criticizes Troyer’s shifting statements about Altheimer, noting that he repeatedly claimed death threats during his emergency call, and then retracted the accusation when questioned by Tacoma police officer Chad Lawless. He also offered a contrasting account to a neighbor in a Facebook message, claiming he’d pursued Altheimer after he “fled” from near his home.

“Since making the 911 call, providing a statement to Officer Lawless within minutes of the 911 call, and the above exchange with his neighbor, Sheriff Troyer’s version of events continued to evolve,” the report states, adding that Troyer has given “at least three different versions” of events to a neighbor, the media and police.

Meanwhile, Moran found that Altheimer has “consistently maintained he did not threaten Sheriff Troyer, whom he recognized as a police officer upon approaching his SUV.”

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