Pierce County’s sheriff must go

For years, Ed Troyer (photo below) was the official voice of the Pierce County, Washington, sheriff’s department. He was on TV whenever there was a major crime story, press conference, or announcement. So when the old sheriff retired, it’s not surprising he won the job, given the influence of name familiarity at the ballot box.

Barely two months into the job, he’s in serious hot water, of his own making.

Here I’ll let the Tacoma News Tribune pick up the story:

“Sheriff Ed Troyer confronted a Black man driving in his Tacoma neighborhood and called 911 to report the man threatened to kill him. It turned out the man, 24-year-old Sedrick Altheimer, was delivering newspapers on his regular route.

“At least three times in a nearly five-minute call with dispatchers Jan. 27, Troyer said he was threatened by the newspaper carrier. Interviewed by police on the night of the incident, Altheimer denied making any threats. Troyer also spoke to police the same night and said Altheimer did not threaten him, contradicting statements in the 911 call, according to a police report.

“Troyer’s allegation of the threat prompted an urgent signal to all local law enforcement, sending 42 officers, deputies and troopers rushing to the scene.”

Stop there. (You can read the entire story here, if you want.)

Altheimer was an innocent black man just making a living. Troyer didn’t know that. When he saw a car pulling in and out of driveways at 2 a.m., his cop instincts kicked in, and he investigated. (Okay, maybe he never saw a newspaper carrier before. That’s what they do making their rounds.) Troyer says he didn’t know the driver was black, and we can believe him. It was dark and Altheimer was inside a car. Troyer also says in over 30 years with the sheriff’s department he’s never been racist, and that’s believable, too, because he doesn’t have a track record of that. It’s never been an issue before.

Where this went sideways is when Troyer called in and said Altheimer threatened him. That would have been all right if it were true. But Troyer himself admits it wasn’t true. And he knew Altheimer was black when he called in. He knew saying someone threatened the sheriff would trigger a massive police response. Unless he lives under a rock, he knew that would put Altheimer’s life in grave danger.

It was dishonest. It could have been deadly. That’s enough reason for Troyer not to be sheriff. He’s not big enough for the job.

But there’s more. Retracting the false accusation, and even a profuse apology, can’t fix this. Pierce County’s minorities will never, ever trust him. And as long as he’s sheriff, they won’t trust that community’s law enforcement, either.

Troyer was elected and can’t be fired. If he doesn’t resign, voters can recall him. That doesn’t mean they will, but the public can try. In fact, recall efforts against sheriffs are pretty common in Washington; there were at least three last year, two of them prompted by sheriff’s alleged refusal to enforce mask mandates during the pandemic. But it’s difficult to get the required signatures, and even harder to win a recall election.

Troyer should resign for the good of the department and community, but let’s say he doesn’t leave, and a recall effort fails. What then? That will further poison the atmosphere in a county already strugging with race relations, crime, drugs, homelessness, and other social problems.

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0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    Ed Troyer will likely carry on whether a recall happens or not. It is early in his office so by the time election day rolls around this will be forgotten.
    The vast majority of even massive police responses do not end tragically. There is no fiery crash. No shoot out. No quip from Officer Friday. Many do not even end with an arrest, and occasionally a mistake has been made and a person doing their workaday routine is the subject. Most know this can happen and how best to handle things when the blue lights come on.
    None of any of this will change the fact that the Sheriff is probably the most powerful person in each county. They are human beings and make mistakes, and the public has high expectations.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    White voters, yes, because they don’t care. It doesn’t happen to them and theirs. Pierce County’s minority community won’t forget it, and if Troyer stays (as he likely will), this incident will only deepen their mistrust of police. That’s not a good thing for anyone, white or black.