Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer took the stand in his criminal trial Thursday to tell his side of the encounter with his neighborhood's newspaper carrier which prompted him to report a death threat to the county's 911 center.
The sheriff's statement to a South Sound 911 dispatcher on Jan. 27, 2021, that he "caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me" spurred a countywide distress call reserved for officers in danger and natural disasters. More than 40 officers were dispatched initially and about a dozen arrived at the scene.
Troyer told jurors that he didn't intend for that level of emergency response and called a subsequent Tacoma police report saying he told officers at the scene he wasn't threatened "inaccurate." The state Attorney General's Office charged him with one count of false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant last October.
"I wouldn't do that," Troyer said of the false reporting charges. "The reason why I'm here is the media has made me out to be a racist and the state has made me out to be a liar."
The officer who wrote the report, Chad Lawless, stood by his report during testimony Wednesday. And the newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, a 26-year-old who is Black, testified Monday that he never threatened the sheriff, who he alleges racially profiled him.
Prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office will question Troyer during cross-examination on Monday.
The sheriff, who has called the case against him politically motivated and rejected calls to resign, said from the witness stand that the events in question began when he heard "banging around" near his garage below his master bedroom window.
When Troyer peeked out, he saw a car with no headlights on driving away from his house in northwest Tacoma and then into two of his neighbor's driveways, he testified.
"It caused me concern," said Troyer, who testified his neighborhood is quiet but also experiences car prowling and mail theft. "It was suspicious."
Troyer said he decided he should try to figure out what the motorist was doing or get a license plate. By the time he got to his Chevy Tahoe, the car he saw from his window was gone.
He said he drove about three blocks before he saw the car parked near a driveway facing the wrong direction with no headlights on. Altheimer testified earlier this week that he encountered Troyer a total of three times throughout the neighborhood.
"I drove and pulled up behind it (the car)," Troyer testified. "And as I slowed down the driver got out, walked back towards me."
Troyer said the man, who he later learned was Altheimer, looked mad, and he could see he was Black for the first time.
"He was screaming at me," Troyer said. "I heard words like, 'I'll take you out.' "
"Take you out" is the phrase Troyer testified he heard as a death threat. He joked on the stand, "I don't think he meant to dinner."
Altheimer told the jury earlier this week he never said that to Troyer.
The sheriff testified Altheimer got up close to his car, "was swinging his arms" and at one point put his hands on the vehicle. "I was kind of in shock," he said.
Troyer said Altheimer motioned to him like he wanted him to get out of the car, but soon he got back into his car and started driving away.
"That's when I started calling," said Troyer.
The sheriff called the direct line to dispatchers that he'd used often in his two decades as the sheriff's department spokesperson to get information about critical incidents, he testified. He said he has the number - referred to by some as the "BS line" due to the casual nature of most calls - on speed dial and knows it "by heart."
Shortly thereafter, Altheimer turned around and was driving back toward Troyer, the sheriff testified. Altheimer testified earlier this week that it was Troyer who turned around toward him.
The sheriff said Altheimer parked about two car lengths away from him with his headlights on. He said Altheimer was yelling and said, "You're only chasing me because I'm Black."
"I had already called 911 and told them what had happened," said Troyer. He said he asked dispatch for one or two patrol cars to respond in hopes of de-escalating the situation and gave the information about the threat so responding officers could be prepared for a "hostile situation." He was worried an officer could be injured or killed.
A recording of Troyer's call showed he told dispatchers four times that he was threatened by Altheimer, who denied threatening Troyer or touching his car on the stand this week.
"I would have felt bad, I would have felt terrible," Troyer said about a responding officer getting hurt. "When I say, 'Killed,' I'm not exaggerating."
Troyer said Lawless was the third or fourth police officer he spoke to at the scene.
"He said something to the effect about the threats," Troyer said, recalling the question as, "What about the threats?"
Troyer testified he responded, "I'm not worried about it."
"I never denied it," Troyer testified. "I never said no."
"We never got into that much detail about what was going on," the sheriff said. "It was a short conversation."
Troyer also said if Altheimer had told him he was a newspaper carrier from the beginning that the situation could have been avoided.
"I said, 'Let him go do his job,' " once Troyer found out, he testified.
The sheriff said he assumed the incident wouldn't come up again, then he heard from the Seattle Times last year. On the stand, he criticized the subsequent article that publicized the case as one-sided.
"I didn't even know there was that minimal, basic (police) report until the Seattle Times called me and told me about it," Troyer said.