Amy Cruver, a member of the Pierce County Council, made a case during a council study session on Monday for the council not to comment on the incident. “I’m just concerned if someone comments and someone misconstrues it if that could come back on the council as a lawsuit when, you know, he is an elected position,” she said at the meeting held via Zoom. “Is it improper to take a stance of let due process play out?”
Washington State Assistant Attorney General Ian Northrip, who represents the county and attended the virtual meeting, responded: “It’s not improper, but there are lots of other things that also aren’t improper.” Council Chairman Derek Young told Cruver, “we aren’t obligated to weigh in.” Northrip focused mostly on answering the council’s questions related to potential legal ramifications of the incident involving the sheriff. He said claims against the council are possible and that any factual questions the council has about the case or legal strategy should be reserved for executive session, which isn’t public. When asked whether the council should bring in an outside investigator, Northrip said the county would have “significant powers” to investigate as long as it was considering legislation, but councilmembers would be limited to the prosecutor’s office in terms of bringing in an outside investigator. The council went into executive session before getting into any details of the encounter. When Young returned from the closed session he said on behalf of the council that it was still gathering facts in the incident “and we’ll have more as soon as we’re able to review that information.”
Altheimer told The Seattle Times he never threatened the sheriff. “I was just asking questions, like ‘Are you a cop?’” he said. The Black father told the newspaper he was driving a 1995 Geo Prizm on his normal paper route when he passed an unmarked Chevy Tahoe and saw the Tahoe turn around to trail him. “I continue what I’m doing, because, you know, I’m working,” he said. “I’m not doing any harm to the neighborhood. I work here every night.”
But the SUV kept following him, so Altheimer hand-delivered one newspaper in a cylinder and went to confront the person driving the SUV, The Seattle Times reported. “So I asked him, ‘Who are you?’” Altheimer said. The sheriff failed to identify himself but started questioning Altheimer and accusing him of stealing mail from front porches, the newspaper carrier said. Altheimer told The Seattle Times he called Troyer a racist, which the sheriff denied, citing a Black wife as proof. Troyer later said in an interview he didn’t know Altheimer was Black until he got out of his car and that he initially started following the driver because he was behaving suspiciously. “I never talked to him. I never talked to the guy,” Troyer said.
Altheimer invited Troyer to call police if he felt threatened. “So then he makes a comment, he’s like ‘Oh, I got four cars on the way,’” Altheimer said. The sheriff told a 911 dispatcher he thought Altheimer looked homeless. “Hey, it’s Troyer,” the sheriff began the 911 call The Seattle Times obtained audio of. “I’m at 27th and Deidra in Tacoma, in North End, about two blocks from my house, and I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me and I’ve blocked him in. He’s here right now.”
Troyer could be heard in the audio telling a dispatcher Altheimer was parked in the sheriff’s driveway and his neighbor’s driveway, and at another point in the call, Troyer said he had Altheimer blocked in. Then, he changed his story to Altheimer had the sheriff blocked in. “I’m trying to be polite to him, and he just says I’m a racist and wants to kill me,” Troyer said. “So I don’t want anything other than him to let me, just let me go home, which is two blocks away, which I just came out of my house.”
The Tacoma Action Collective, a community group working to fight systemic oppression, is calling for the sheriff to resign to save taxpayers the trouble of orchestrating an election recall. Troyer, a former public information officer, was elected sheriff last November. “Ed Troyer shouldn’t have been elected sheriff,” the community group said on Twitter. “He LIED about what happened to Manuel Ellis on national tv. We even put his audio clip over a video of what actually happened. And now this. Now do y’all believe us?”
The sheriff defended officers after Manuel Ellis, a Black man, died in police custody of a lack of oxygen due to the position officers held him in, restraints they forced on him, and a spit hood they deployed on March 3, 2020. His death was ruled a homicide, but Troyer was sure to highlight the fact that Ellis had methamphetamine in his system as well as a heart condition in an interview with KIRO 7. “We understand that this death has similarities to what’s going on across the country. And even though the cause of death might’ve been slightly related, the manner in which we got there is a totally different story,” Troyer said. “This is not that type of incident. This is an incident where he contacted a police car. They were not trying to arrest him. He was having some type of issue and assaulted a police officer.
“They were able to get him into custody. That’s when he had trouble breathing.”
WARNING: This video contains profanity and graphic content that may be triggering for viewers.
The Tacoma Action Collection called Troyer a liar. “He’s not only a liar, he’s a racist. And a threat to Black people in Pierce County,” the community group tweeted.