PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Tacoma Police Department has not decided whether to discipline an officer who failed to wear a body camera while responding to an incident involving Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer and a Black newspaper carrier.
The Jan. 27 run-in has sparked outrage among those who believe Troyer lied about the carrier threatening him and prompted the County Council to hire an independent investigator to gather details about the altercation.
In body camera footage released by the city this week, the carrier, 24-year-old Sedrick Altheimer, is visibly frustrated at being questioned by police and repeatedly denies threatening Troyer.
“He’s lying. So what happens to him?” Altheimer asks an officer.
The confrontation started about 2:15 a.m. after Troyer said he noticed a vehicle driving in and out of neighboring driveways, which he found suspicious. Planning to jot down the vehicle’s license plate number, Troyer drove his personal vehicle to the street. He did not take his badge or gun.
Altheimer, who said the sheriff was following him, eventually stopped and asked Troyer what he was doing.
That’s when Troyer called 911.
In a nearly five-minute call with dispatchers, Troyer said three times that he was threatened by the man and asked for Tacoma police to send one or two patrol cars to the scene.
Instead, the sheriff’s call triggered an urgent signal to all local law enforcement that an officer was in trouble and 42 officers, deputies and troopers responded. Nearly all were called off after the first Tacoma officers arrived and found no danger.
Officer Chad Lawless spoke with Troyer at the scene.
“Troyer advised that Altheimer never threatened him and he did not observe Altheimer with any weapons,” according to a police report written by Lawless. “Troyer described that when he confronted Altheimer at the listed address it was clear he ‘wanted to fight.’”
Troyer told The News Tribune he never recanted his claim about the threat and the officer misunderstood him when Troyer said he didn’t want to do anything about the threat once he realized Altheimer was delivering newspapers. The sheriff said Altheimer threatened “to take me out.”
There is no body camera footage of Troyer’s conversation with police.
Although the city released seven clips, one of which shows Altheimer speaking with officers, none of them are from Lawless.
“In the rush to respond to an officer needs help call, I mistakenly left my BWC on the charger,” Lawless wrote in a police report.
That is a violation of department policy, which requires officers to activate the cameras before getting out of their patrol cars when being dispatched to a call. The policy requires officers to leave the camera on until the incident is over.
Wendy Haddow, the department’s spokeswoman, said officials are reviewing Lawless’ failure to wear a body camera on that call.
BODY CAMERA POLICY
Although Tacoma talked for years about acquiring body cameras, they weren’t implemented until December.
The city spent $1.2 million on the Axon Body 3 cameras, which are positioned on the chest of officers and record both audio and video. The cost is estimated to be $800,000 for each consecutive year.
About 20 officers received the body-worn cameras in December. By the end of February, all 250 uniformed officers had them.
An 11-page policy was added to the department’s procedure manual, outlining what is and is not allowed with the cameras.
Officers were granted an amnesty period of one month or 16 shifts if they forgot to turn on or wear the body cameras, which are meant to be “a valuable tool for promoting transparency in law enforcement,” according to the policy.
Although the department declined to release the date Lawless was given a body camera, it’s possible the Jan. 27 incident fell within that amnesty period.
The body camera policy is fairly straightforward.
▪ Officers are supposed to inspect their cameras at the start of their shift and if there’s an equipment malfunction, they can get a spare from their sergeant or patrol operations desk officer while theirs is repaired.
▪ They must wear them while on-duty and are required to turn the body cameras on “to record their law enforcement activity.”
▪ Officers must record while interacting with the public or while involved in a pursuit.
▪ If an officer decides to turn off his or her camera, the officer must record their reason for stopping the recording.
▪ Officers do not have to turn on the body-worn cameras if it could hinder a criminal investigation or if somebody objects to being recorded. However, they do not have to honor the person’s objection since conversations with police officers are not considered private.
Some of the body camera footage from the incident with Troyer and Altheimer shows officers speeding to the scene. A 16-minute clip shows an officer speaking with Altheimer about what happened.
“I walked up to his car because he came around the block again for the third time,” Altheimer told the officer. “I approached him. Why are you following me? Because I’m a Black man in a white neighborhood?”
Altheimer was visibly agitated, expressing frustration that he wasn’t allowed to return to work and that so many officers responded. When the officer explained there was a larger than usual response because Troyer is the sheriff, Altheimer said he recognized Troyer and knows who he is.
The officer asked Altheimer if he threatened Troyer during their exchange.
“No. What am I threatening him for?,” Altheimer said. “I feel threatened. I’m followed. Just because I walk up on him, I threatened him?”
The officer persisted, asking if anybody made any threats.
“Nobody made no threats. That’s a lie. If I made a threat, I’ll tell you but I didn’t,” Altheimer said. “I didn’t even go to him angry, I just wanted to know why he was following me.”
The officer then said it appeared to be a misunderstanding.
This story was published by The News Tribune.