Pierce County investigation report: Sheriff Ed Troyer violated policies during encounter with newspaper hauler

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An investigation led by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran found that Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer violated policies on impartial policing and other professional standards during a contentious January encounter with a hauler. black newspapers.

The 48-page reportreleased on Tuesday, blamed Troyer for not being on duty late at night to follow a car driven by then 24-year-old Sedrick Altheimer, and then called for a massive emergency response claiming Altheimer had threatened to To kill him.

Moran’s inquest summary said he was “unable to substantiate” Troyer’s threat allegations and that “a reasonable person might conclude that Sheriff Troyer displayed improper bias when his confrontation with Mr. Altheimer”.

Highlighting the consequences of Troyer’s call, the report added: ‘It is not hyperbole to assert that Mr. Altheimer, who was initially secured at gunpoint, could have been only ‘an unintended or ill-received gesture far from serious harm or worse by the officers who responded. The professionalism of the officers who arrived first on the scene is commendable. They too have been put in a very difficult situation as a result of these events.

An attorney for Troyer said Tuesday he had not read Moran’s findings carefully, but argued the sheriff acted appropriately during the incident.

The report, commissioned by Pierce County Council, found that Troyer, who is white, violated bias-based professional conduct policies against policing and engaged in law enforcement activities in outside of working hours, among others.

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

The report criticizes Troyer’s shifting statements about Altheimer, noting that he repeatedly asked for death threats during his emergency call, then recanted the accusation when questioned by the Tacoma police officer Chad Lawless. He also offered a contrasting account to a neighbor in a Facebook post, saying he pursued Altheimer after he “ran away” near his home.

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

Meanwhile, Moran found that Altheimer had “consistently maintained that he had not threatened Sheriff Troyer, whom he recognized as a police officer when approaching his SUV.”

Based on interviews with a few witnesses provided by Troyer, Moran also found that Altheimer “had previously engaged in inappropriate and at times aggressive behavior when he perceived he was under suspicion in connection with his work.”

The findings, delivered to Pierce County Council on Tuesday, say Troyer committed the policy violations using a “preponderance of the standard of proof.”

Troyer, according to the report, violated “the letter and the spirit” of the Sheriff’s Office policy on deputies taking law enforcement action while off duty “when they are witnesses of minor crimes”.

He also violated a policy banning “bias-based policing,” according to the report, citing his statements to the dispatcher that Altheimer appeared to be homeless. On whether racial bias was at play, the report said it was “impossible” to know whether Troyer would have made the same 911 call had he encountered a white man under identical circumstances.

Additionally, the report found that Troyer violated policies against officer conduct that adversely impacted the department and harmed community relations.

Moran’s investigation is a separate civil investigation from a criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office, which last week charged Troyer with two misdemeanor counts of misrepresentation.

Troyer returned a request for comment Tuesday to his attorney, John Sheeran, who said he was still reviewing the report and could not yet speak directly to its findings.

But Sheeran read a statement saying Troyer “did exactly what the people of Pierce County would have law enforcement do.”

“He observed a suspicious vehicle at 2 a.m. and he called the police,” Sheeran said. “He did not lie or make any false statements. We look forward to a jury trial where the people of Pierce County judge him after hearing from witnesses. We are confident that after people hear the whole story, Sheriff Troyer will be vindicated.

Altheimer, now 25, declined to comment on Tuesday and attorneys representing him in a lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report led Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello to ask Troyer to resign. In a series of tweets on Tuesday evening, Mello said he had read the entire report and had “lost faith, trust and confidence” in Troyer, urging him “to resign to allow the brave individuals of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department not to be distracted by these actions.

Pierce County Council hired Moran to lead an investigation in April, after news reports detailed Troyer’s meeting with Altheimer that prompted a massive police response in the sheriff’s West End neighborhood in Tacoma.

Among other things, the council ordered Moran to resolve the disputed facts and versions of the incident, and to investigate whether the sheriff abused his authority and violated criminal laws or civil policies, standards or regulations. .

During the encounter, Troyer called a police-only hotline to report that a suspicious man in a vehicle was prowling homes in his neighborhood and repeatedly claimed that the man threatened to kill him. to kill.

Dispatchers classified Troyer’s report as a priority “officer needs assistance” call, triggering more than 40 police cars from across the county to rush to the scene. Tacoma police officers, who arrived first, called off the full-scale response. After Lawless questioned him, Troyer backtracked on his claims that Altheimer had threatened him, according to a police incident report.

Tacoma police body camera footage only documented the officers’ interactions with Altheimer, but did not record the sheriff’s police interviews, resulting in a reprimand against a police commander.

Troyer has since maintained that he was threatened, but maintains that he did not want to press charges. Tacoma police have maintained their incident report.

Questions of whether Troyer had been drinking that night were also discussed in Moran’s report.

Moran questioned two deputies who responded to the scene to find out if they thought Troyer was intoxicated during his meeting with Altheimer. The two said that due to masking and distancing requirements related to COVID-19, “clear signs of impairment were difficult to detect.” Deputies noted that Troyer’s speech “was a little ‘off-the-wall,'” the report added.

“One of the deputies also explained that although Sheriff Troyer said he was home before this incident happened, that statement seemed to contradict his clothing; he was wearing a blazer, pants and shoes. “, says the report.

Troyer denied drinking that night.

Moran’s findings are the latest in a string of recent actions related to the January encounter. Last week, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office charged Troyer with two counts of misdemeanor misrepresentation and misrepresentation to an official. Altheimer’s attorneys filed a federal civil rights complaint regarding the incident against Pierce County.

Neither Altheimer nor Troyer were interviewed for the Moran inquest, although the report said investigators reviewed statements each man had previously made.

Troyer, a longtime deputy and public face for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said in April he welcomed an outside investigation into the case.

In a statement last week, Troyer, who was elected sheriff in November 2020, vowed to fight criminal charges and said he had been unfairly targeted by Ferguson, whom he accused of trying to attack him. “delirious”.

“My job is to protect the citizens of Pierce County and that is what I have done for 37 years and that is what I will continue to do,” the statement read. “…As State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson is failing to protect citizens, he is creating more crime with a false narrative and causing division in our communities and empowering criminals.”

As part of the investigation, Moran’s team at the Seattle law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe conducted their own interviews, reviewed interview summaries from the AG’s office, visited sites and reviewed numerous documents, video and audio recordings. The findings of the six-month investigation were presented to council on Tuesday.

The council released the report on Tuesday afternoon, but said in a statement that members were still reviewing it.

“Once we have processed the information, we will consider potential next steps to determine how the Board wishes to proceed,” Board Chairman Derek Young said in a statement.

It remains unclear what consequences, if any, will result from the report’s findings.

Moran’s report recommended that the board provide its findings to Pierce County District Attorney Mary Robnett for her office to consider including Troyer on its so-called Brady List, a tally of officers with credibility issues. He also recommended that the council send the report to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which has the power to revoke police officers’ licenses.

The report also noted, without approving, other potential remedies under state law, including efforts to recall Troyer as sheriff and his removal from public office if convicted of the offenses. criminal.

Moran’s investigation described Troyer’s violations as “at the extreme end of the ‘seriousness’ scale.” But, he noted that internal sheriff’s department penalties are normally decided by the independently elected sheriff.

“Ironically, the appropriate level of discipline would lie with Sheriff Troyer, the very person whose judgment in these matters has been questioned,” the report said.

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