Pierce County names investigator to examine sheriff’s confrontation with newspaper carrier

The Pierce County Council selected an independent contractor Tuesday to investigate Sheriff Ed Troyer’s confrontation with a Black man delivering newspapers in a Tacoma neighborhood in January.

The council unanimously approved a motion to have staff prepare a contract of no more than $50,000 with Brian Moran, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington from 2019 to 2021.

“There were a few candidates, but this one hit all the right things that we were looking for in terms of background experience and not being perceived as having one particular leaning,” Chairman Derek Young (D-Gig Harbor) said of Moran in a Monday council study session.

Now that the motion has passed, a contract will be drafted and negotiations can begin with Moran, council spokesperson Brynn Grimley said.

If Moran accepts a contract, the county will sign with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, an international law firm where Moran is a partner.

Moran began his career as a deputy Kitsap County prosecutor. He joined the Office of the Washington State Attorney General in 1998 and became the chief criminal prosecutor before leaving in 2013 for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where he remained until his federal post.

According to council documents, the scope of investigation includes:

  • Determining the facts of what occurred during the incident on Jan. 27, 2021 and resolving disputed facts and versions, including an investigation of motivations and states of mind of those involved, including potential biases or prejudices
  • Determining whether the sheriff misused his authority or deviated from required law enforcement standards (including honesty), violated any Pierce County Sheriff’s Department policy or regulation, or violated any criminal law during the incident.
  • Investigating Troyer’s past conduct as part of determining whether the Jan. 27 incident was a “misuse of authority, a deviation from standards or a violation of policy or law” and to determine whether there is a pattern. Past conduct to be investigated will include a 911 call Troyer made on Nov. 11, 2020, and his public statements about the death of Manuel Ellis and the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation.
  • If Moran determines there was a misuse of authority, a deviation from standards or a violation of policy or law, he also would discipline that typically would be recommended if the incident had involved a non-elected employee of the department.
  • If Moran determines that there was a misuse of authority, a deviation from standards, or a violation of policy or law, he might provide recommendations for oversight or other procedures that could prevent or discourage similar misconduct in the future by any person serving as sheriff.

Moran would have the power to administer oaths, take testimony and subpoena the production of evidence. With the council’s approval, he could also subpoena witnesses, the council motion said.

No timeframe for the investigation is outlined in the contract.

“That said, council understands the need for a swift turn around and wants to see a proper investigation done, while still being mindful of the immediacy of the situation,” Grimley said.

The office of sheriff is independently elected, and the council has no supervisory authority over the position. Troyer was elected in November and sworn in following certified results. Previously, he was the public information officer for the department for 19 years.

Troyer said in an email to The News Tribune he asked the council for the investigation to be expanded to include his 911 call in November and his involvement in the Manuel Ellis investigation.

“TPD has since taken a report on the Nov 11th incident where I was a victim. I have photos and video of that incident,” he said in the email.

He said he does not know Moran, but welcomes a fair, independent and thorough investigation.

“No policies or laws were broken,” he said. “I look forward to a complete investigation. I will fully cooperate as will my department.”

In a Monday study session, council members discussed the breadth and price of the investigation.

Vice Chair Dave Morell (R-South Hill) said the initial price of a contract up to $75,000 was expensive, and he felt the scope of the investigation was too broad.

“I don’t have a problem with Jan. 27, but beyond that scope, I think we are throwing money at this thing,” he said. “I’m not that comfortable broadening the scope to this extent.”

Council member Marty Campbell (D-Tacoma) read an email he received from Troyer, welcoming an investigation into the Jan. 27 incident and his handling of the Manuel Ellis investigation to “increase transparency and provide trust to the community.”

Young said the investigation needed to extend beyond the January incident to either establish a pattern or rebuild trust with the Sheriff’s Department.

“By narrowing it too much, we run the possibility that we won’t accomplish either of those goals,” he said in the Monday study session.

On Jan. 27, Sheriff Troyer confronted a Black man driving who was delivering newspapers. Troyer called 911 to report the man threatened to kill him. He said at least three times in a nearly five-minute call that the newspaper carrier threatened him.

The 24-year-old man, Sedrick Altheimer, denied making threats, according to a police report. Troyer said in his interview with police that Altheimer did not threaten him, contradicting statements in the 911 call, according to a police report.

In an interview with The News Tribune last month, Troyer, who is white, denied racially profiling Altheimer. Troyer said he never retracted his allegation that Altheimer threatened “to take me out,” but told officers he didn’t want to do anything about the threat.

Troyer said he did not know the gender or race of the carrier when he went to see what was going on, and found the behavior suspicious because there had been recent thefts in the neighborhood.

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.