Home USA News Trial of Pierce Sheriff: Jury selected, opening statements made

Trial of Pierce Sheriff: Jury selected, opening statements made


Attorneys on both sides of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer’s criminal trial told jurors during opening statements Wednesday afternoon that the case was simple.

According to prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office, Troyer falsely told a 911 dispatcher that on Jan. 27, 2021, 40 Tacoma officers and two Pierce County deputies threatened to kill him to a newspaper from a black neighborhood in Tacoma. rush to the scene. That statement was a “lie,” which Troyer took back when 14 officers arrived, attorneys said.

“Essentially, Troyer recanted his statements,” Assistant Attorney General Barbara Serrano said. The sheriff “made a false report of an emergency that did not exist.”

Defense attorneys countered that Troyer never recanted what he said about the threat to his life. The Tacoma police officer who interviewed the sheriff did not accurately report their conversation, and he forgot to bring a body-worn camera to record it.

“Sheriff Troyer is going to testify and tell you all about it,” said celebrity defense attorney Ann Bremner. She later said of the newsboy, “He threatened to kill the sheriff.”

Up to six jurors selected by lawyers during three and a half days of questioning will decide who is telling the truth. Four alternatives were also secretly selected at random in case of extenuating circumstances.

Sheriff Troyer’s Jury

Last week, attorneys started with a pool of 75 prospective jurors and whittled that list down to 10 by Wednesday afternoon. The public learned more about some than others during the lawyers’ interrogations.

One juror, who appeared to be white, had worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton for more than 20 years. Another, also white, worked as a Transportation Security Administration employee at the airport for about three years. A retired white female jury member, she once held office jobs in retail and insurance.

At least two of the jurors are people of color: a man who appeared to be black, and an 83-year-old Native American man who said he has faced racial profiling by police on several occasions. Defense attorneys tried to dismiss the latter, but Judge Jeffrey Jans ruled in favor of the state, citing court rules. Hitting him after the defense had a chance to argue that he was fired because of potential bias against the police could create the impression that he was fired because of his race, Jans said.

Five more people who appeared to be white, three men and two women, completed the rest of the jury.

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Washington Assistant Attorney General Barbara Serrano addresses the jury during the prosecution’s opening statement in Pierce County Circuit Court, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Tacoma. Pete Custer Pete Custer/The News Tribune

Opening speech of the prosecutor’s office

Before reading the transcript of the sheriff’s emergency call, Serrano asked jurors to consider two questions: Were Troyer’s statements to the dispatcher a lie and did he report a false emergency?

Serrano said Troyer’s statements about how his district’s newspaperman, Cedric Altheimer, then 24, had threatened to kill him led the 911 dispatcher to believe the sheriff was in an active, dangerous confrontation.

The dispatcher then entered Troyer’s call as priority 0, which is reserved for reports of life-threatening danger to an officer or the eruption of Mount Rainier.

“Sheriff Troyer has become the highest priority in all of Pierce County,” Serrano said.

Among the 12 Tacoma police officers who arrived at the scene, two were sergeants and one was a lieutenant. The call brought only two University Place deputies out on patrol in North Tacoma, leaving the city without police cover for about 30 minutes.

Serrano also noted Troyer’s seemingly contradictory claims of being locked in Altheimer’s car, after which Altheimer wouldn’t let him leave.

The first officers on the scene downgraded the call to prevent others from rushing to the area once they realized there was no serious threat to Troyer, Serrano said. Nevertheless, the officers approached Altheimer with guns drawn and searched him for weapons. Altheimer was not armed.

Altheimer, who has delivered newspapers in the area for about three and a half years, said he became concerned that Troyer was following him after he saw his car a second time around 2 a.m., Serrano said. He decided to approach the car after seeing it for the third time.

Serrano relayed the gist of what Altheimer told Troyer about following him: “Is it because I’m black? Are you a policeman?’ Troyer did not identify himself as law enforcement and accused Altheimer of being a driveway pirate.

The newsman returned to his car but later saw Troyer’s Chevy Tahoe following him again, Serrano said. Their cars collided in the middle of the street. The sheriff then called a law enforcement-only line that goes directly to dispatchers.

Police arrested Altheimer on his papers earlier after residents reported seeing him walking in and out of their driveways, Serrano said. Those interactions quickly ended when the officers realized he was a paper carrier.

Officers who responded to Troyer’s call detained and questioned Altheimer for 20 minutes, Serrano said. Meanwhile, Troyer parked his car away from the newsboy.

Serrano said the first officer who spoke to Troyer said the sheriff said he began following Altheimer after he saw him burglarize his home. Troyer did not say anything about the threat.

The officer then grabbed Chad Lawless, the lead officer at the scene, to speak with Troyer, according to Serrano.

Lawless asked Troyer twice if Alzheimer’s had threatened him, and the sheriff said no, according to Serrano. Altheimer was not displaying a gun and appeared to want to fight, Lawless said.

Lawless, now a TPD detective, is expected to testify during the trial.

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Ann Bremner, defense attorney for Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, points to prosecutors as she makes her opening statement to the jury in Pierce County District Court, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Tacoma. Pete Custer Pete Custer/The News Tribune

Opening remarks from the Troyer team

For much of her opening statement, Bremner questioned Lawless’s report and spoke to Troyer’s character.

“The whole case you’re here for,” Bremner said, “is based on that quote-unquote lie.”

She said the state’s case is based on Lawless and the report he wrote the day after the incident. Lawless forgot to wear a body camera when he answered and did not take notes during the interview with Troyer.

Bremner said the first officer who spoke to Troyer would testify that the sheriff told him he was threatened by Alzheimer’s. She also said the body-worn camera footage would contradict Lawless, but did not elaborate.

Troyer has a “clean, amazing, commendable record,” she said.

Troyer grew up in Pierce County and graduated from Wilson High School before becoming a sheriff’s deputy at age 22, Bremner said. She then cited his masterminding of the 2009 murders of four Lakewood police officers and the 2012 murders of Powell, as well as his involvement in philanthropy and the foster care system.

She also said Troyer had no complaints of racism, use of force or harassment throughout his career.

“He was committed to this county and its citizens,” Bremner said.

Bremner said Troyer was trying to protect his neighbors when he spotted a suspicious car in his neighborhood last year.

“That’s his job,” said Bremner, who noted that Troyer was dressed in casual work clothes late at night. “That’s what he has to do.”

Bremner said that when Altheimer approached Troyer’s car, he told the sheriff, “I’m going to get you out.”

“He took it as a threat and told it” to dispatchers, Bremner said. But Troyer did not expect a massive police response.

“He said, ‘I’ve got a guy here, I need help calming him down,'” Bremner said.

The dispatcher’s call recording does not clearly reflect this.

Bremner said Troyer did not retract his statement about the threat to his life during the interview with Lawless. Troyer told Lawless he didn’t want the officers to do anything with his report once he learned Altheimer was a newspaper delivery man.

“A simple misunderstanding, a misunderstanding,” Bremner said.

Bremner claimed Lawless deleted text messages about the incident, but said some remained where he called Troyer a “bitch” and a “jerk.”

“This is their only witness in the criminal case against the Pierce County Sheriff,” Bremner said.

She also argued that Altheimer has a financial incentive in convicting Troyer because of his claim against the district.

The case may be simple, but it has huge implications for Troyer, Bremner said. She called it a “tragedy” and a “travesty” that Troyer ended up in court.

“All the evidence,” Bremner said, “supports Sheriff Troyer. All of this.”

Jared Brown covers Pierce County courts and law enforcement from an accountability perspective. He joined The News Tribune in 2022 and previously interned in the summer of 2017. He also covered police and breaking news for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Jared holds a master’s degree from the University of Washington and a journalism degree from Gonzaga University.

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