'I'm being called a racist. Not true,' says embattled Sheriff Ed Troyer after trailing Black newspaper carrier
Ed Troyer, the Pierce County sheriff, is in hot water three months into his first term.
In late January, Troyer called 911 on a Black newspaper delivery driver, who the sheriff deemed suspicious, but who, it turns out, was just delivering papers in an affluent Tacoma neighborhood. The Seattle Times first reported on this incident.
Now several groups, including the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, 27th and 29th Legislative District Democrats, and the Tacoma Action Collective, are calling for Troyer’s resignation. The Pierce County Council announced plans for its own investigation.
In response to calls for his ouster, Troyer released a statement. “This is a time when transparency, facts, and communication are paramount,” he wrote. “As your elected sheriff I am fully committed to building trust with the community, and I welcome this inquiry.”
In an email to KUOW, Troyer said he would not resign. “I’m being called a racist, not true,” he said. “Resigning would add credibility to that claim.”
Troyer’s actions on January 27, when he called police on a Black newspaper carrier, suggests racial bias at a time when police across the nation are grappling with this very issue. It also comes after a national backlash last year against Amy Cooper, a New Yorker who falsely claimed to 911 dispatchers that a Black birdwatcher in Central Park was threatening her. And it comes after Miya Ponsetto of California accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone, and attacked him in a hotel lobby in New York.
The Seattle Times reported that in the early hours of January 27, Troyer followed Sedrick Altheimer, the Black newspaper carrier, in his unmarked white Chevy Tahoe.
At one point, Altheimer walked over to Troyer’s SUV and asked why he was being followed, according to the Seattle Times. Altheimer told the Seattle Times he didn’t recognize Troyer, and asked him who he was. He said Troyer didn’t identify himself, but instead asked Altheimer what he was doing in the neighborhood, and called him a “porch pirate.”
Troyer told emergency dispatchers that he was about two blocks away from his house, that he caught someone in his driveway who “threatened to kill” him, according to dispatch audio released by the Seattle Times.
When police showed up, according to the Seattle Times, Troyer recanted, saying the newspaper carrier hadn't threatened him.
Later, Troyer took back that statement, saying the newspaper carrier actually had threatened him. Troyer said in an email to KUOW that Altheimer was “screaming and yelling and threatening to take me out.”
According to the Seattle Times, Tacoma police arrived and found Altheimer and Troyer in their vehicles — about 50 feet apart. Troyer’s distress call summoned 42 law enforcement units from numerous agencies.
This incident hearkens to other times in Troyer’s long career with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, when he appeared to act before thinking through possible ramifications.
Before he was elected sheriff, Troyer spent 19 years as spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. As a spokesperson, Troyer’s approach was unconventional. He was chatty with reporters and enjoyed the spotlight — and didn’t shy away from the spotlight.
Troyer defended Pierce County Sheriff deputies taking part in more than 100 episodes of “Cops” — including nine episodes in which he is listed on IMDB for “special thanks to” — after the controversial series was canceled. “Our guys like doing it, it’s been very good for recruiting” he told the Tacoma News Tribune.
Troyer could be playful. Once, in 2012, after sightings of a big cat in Puyallup, Troyer jokingly posted a photo of a large stuffed tiger on the hood of his vehicle.
"I found the tiger waiting on the hood of my car,” Troyer said on Facebook. “He doesn't like cameras and wanted a ride home.”
But while he was chummy with journalists and playful in his social media posts, his tone could be dismissive of the community he served. Once he posted a photo of a man who was yelling at cars, while under the influence of drugs, on the Pierce County Sheriff’s Facebook page.
The man was photographed sitting on asphalt in his underwear, with his small dog between his legs. The Facebook caption Troyer wrote came off as flippant. “If you mix heroin and methamphetamine, you might just end up … getting arrested in nothing but your underwear,” he wrote.
Behind the scenes, Troyer provoked frustration among some colleagues outside his department.
Bob Calkins, former Washington State Patrol spokesperson, said on Facebook that he “lost count of the times” Troyer spoke incorrectly about state patrol.
“I usually tried to call him so he could save face and correct the reporter himself,” he wrote on March 22. “But eventually he became so hard to track down that I resolved to just call reporters myself.”
Troyer said by email that he always gave honest and accurate information.
“Sometimes it’s the best known information at the time,” he said. “If things change I always give an update of current info. I would not have lasted 19 years in that job otherwise.”
Shannon McMinimee, an attorney who interacted with Troyer when she worked at Tacoma Schools, said his behavior could be unexpected — like when he criticized another law enforcement agency while they were part of a panel.
“I think at times, there was a question as to whether he was promoting himself, or promoting the Pierce County Sheriff's Office,” McMinimee said.
“I always put our department first,” Troyer said by email.
Nonetheless, his actions have had local implications.
David Jones, a Windermere real estate business owner in Tacoma and former assistant principal at Foss High School, said he understands the behavior expected of someone in a public service position, and the scrutiny that comes along with the job.
But as a member of the community and as a Black man, Jones said Troyer’s actions have impacted trust in law enforcement in Pierce County, a trust that was already fractured after the Tacoma police killing of Manuel “Manny” Ellis. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office was assigned to investigate the killing.
Witnesses captured video of Tacoma police as they choked, tased, and beat Ellis, contradicting Tacoma police written accounts of the incident. The footage also contradicted statements made by Troyer, acting on the behalf of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office — the investigating agency — who said that police hadn’t choked Ellis.
Jones said Troyer’s actions furthered a local divide, between those who are “protected by the police” and those who have a higher expectation of their performance, and their disposition when it comes to racial and equity injustice.
“Those are all things I think are non-negotiables as someone who is a community member and believes in policing,” Jones said.