Drastically different opening statements during criminal trial for Pierce County Sheriff

Opening statements were delivered on Wednesday in the closely-watched criminal trial of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. From the start, the jury was presented with two radically different versions of the confrontation at the heart of the case. 

Both Troyer and Sedrick Altheimer, the Black newspaper deliverer he was following, are expected to testify. Based on the opening statements, the prosecution and defense could be fighting over almost every detail of that tense encounter and what they claim happened on the day in question, Jan. 27, 2021.

"This case is quite simple. Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer got into a confrontation with a newspaper carrier and then lied to a 911 dispatcher by reporting that the newspaper carrier threatened to kill him," said Barbara Serrano, of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

"They have to prove that he willingly lied. That’s what the jury instruction is going to be to you, that he willingly lied about getting a threat. How could they ever prove that? Because that claim is false," said Anne Bremner, Troyer’s Defense Attorney.

Prosecutors told the court Altheimer has been a newspaper carrier since he was a teenager and has delivered newspapers in Troyer’s neighborhood six days a week for the past three and a half years.

Officials said Altheimer was delivering newspapers in Tacoma on Jan. 27, 2021, when Troyer began following him in his personal car. State prosecutors said Altheimer got out of his car and approached Troyer.

"He asked Sheriff Troyer something to the effect of, ‘Why are you following me? Is it because I’m Black? Are you a cop?’ Sheriff Troyer did not answer any of these questions, he did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer, he did not show a badge and he did not tell Mr. Altheimer that he lived in the neighborhood. Instead, he began questioning Mr. Altheimer. He asked if he knew where he was and accused him of being a porch pirate," said Serrano. 

Prosecutors told the jury that Troyer called a back channel to South Sound 911, telling a dispatcher that Altheimer threatened to kill him. Prosecutors said this prompted a large police response with their, "guns out of their holsters."

"Sheriff Troyer made a false report about an emergency that did not exist," said Serrano.

The defense, however, said Troyer recalls that scene differently.

"There were 40 officers in the massive response? False. Maybe 7 to 8 were there. That this was a call to 911? False. He called an inside channel that you might call to say whose going to be on shift next or internal communications," said Bremner.

Court documents said Troyer then backed off of his threat claims after questioning by Tacoma Police. After a months-long investigation, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office charged him with misdemeanor counts of false reporting and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. Troyer has pleaded not guilty.

The defense argued all of the accusations against Troyer are false, further stating the situation was a misunderstanding. 

"The substantial evidence supports Sheriff Troyer. All of it," said Bremner.

Bremner made a point to tell the court about his years of service at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and his involvement with several community organizations. The sheriff’s attorney also mentioned during opening statements that Altheimer filed a lawsuit against Troyer.

"He filed a lawsuit for $5 million. $5 million against the sheriff of this county. And I’m bringing that up to you because it’s relevant to his credibility when he takes the stand. And he will take the stand. Anybody that has a financial interest in a case whether it’s $5 million, more or less, has a financial bias to win. An interest to win, so to speak, in a criminal case," said Bremner.

Testimony begins Thursday morning with the state’s first witness, who was an officer that responded to the scene.