TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A jury acquitted a Washington county sheriff Wednesday in a case involving his confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier.
The six-member male and nearly all-white jury found Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer not guilty on misdemeanor false-reporting charges, The Seattle Times reported. The jury deliberated much of Wednesday before returning the unanimous verdict.
Troyer cried as the verdict was read and hugged his attorneys.
Troyer, who is white, has worked for the sheriff's office for decades in the state's second-most populous county. He was charged in October 2021 by the state attorney general’s office with one count of false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant.
Prosecutors accused Troyer of lying when he called an emergency dispatcher around 2 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2021, saying four times that Sedrick Altheimer was threatening to kill him.
More than 40 officers responded to the scene. Most were called off after Tacoma police arrived.
Troyer told responding Tacoma police, however, that he was not threatened by Altheimer, according to an incident report and testimony by Officer Chad Lawless, who said he specifically asked Troyer twice about threats.
Troyer testified that he never retracted his threat claims but merely said he “wasn’t worried” about Altheimer once officers explained he was a newspaper carrier.
Closing arguments painted Troyer as a “great man” wrongfully accused, and conversely, as a liar whose false claims of death threats “weaponized” a massive police response against Altheimer.
Throughout his trial, his defense team argued he was the victim of an anti-police political prosecution and emphasized his long career, family and charity work.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a statement after the verdict was announced, said part of upholding the rule of law is respecting the decision of a jury.
“I appreciate the jury’s service, and thank my team for their hard work.” he said.
Troyer, driving his unmarked personal SUV, started following Altheimer in the early hours of Jan. 27, saying he’d seen him driving suspiciously near his Tacoma home.
Altheimer testified he approached Troyer’s SUV between deliveries and asked if he was following him because he was Black and if he was a cop. He said Troyer never identified himself and accused Altheimer of being a “porch pirate.”
After driving away, Altheimer said Troyer followed him again. The two wound up facing one another in their vehicles on a quiet street. That’s when Troyer called in the emergency response, leading to Altheimer getting detained and frisked for weapons.
Altheimer denied ever threatening Troyer, but Troyer said Altheimer had been angry, wanted to fight and yelled he would “take me out.”
Altheimer has filed a civil lawsuit against Pierce County and Troyer, seeking at least $5 million in damages. That case had been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal trial. An attorney for Altheimer did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.
An investigation into the incident led by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran and commissioned by the Pierce County Council found Troyer had violated policies on bias-free policing and other professional standards. Moran’s report, released last year, noted that Troyer had given shifting statements about the encounter to media, his neighbors and police.
Troyer also last year was added to Pierce County’s “Brady list” of law enforcement witnesses with credibility problems.