Attorneys on both sides of the criminal trial of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer told jurors it's a simple case during their opening statements Wednesday afternoon.
In the view of prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office, Troyer falsely reported to a 911 dispatcher that his Tacoma neighborhood's newspaper carrier, who is Black, threatened to kill him on Jan. 27, 2021, prompting 40 Tacoma officers and two Pierce County deputies to rush to the scene. That statement was a "lie" that Troyer then took back when 14 officers arrived, the attorneys said.
"In effect, Troyer backpedaled his statements," said assistant attorney general Barbara Serrano. The sheriff "made a false report of an emergency that did not exist."
Defense attorneys countered that Troyer never took back what he said about the threat to his life. The Tacoma police officer who interviewed the sheriff didn't accurately report their conversation, and he forgot to bring his body-worn camera to record it.
"Sheriff Troyer is going to testify and tell you all of this," said celebrity defense attorney Anne Bremner. She later said of the newspaper carrier, "He threatened to kill the sheriff."
It will be up to six jurors - selected by attorneys during three and half days of questioning - to decide who is telling the truth. Four alternates also were secretly picked at random in case of extenuating circumstances.
Sheriff Troyer's jury
Last week, attorneys started with a group of 75 prospective jurors and brought that list down to 10 by Wednesday afternoon. The public learned more about some than others during questioning by attorneys.
One juror, who appeared to be white, has worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton for more than 20 years. Another, also white, has been an airport Transportation Security Administration officer for about three years. A retired white woman on the jury once worked office jobs in retail and insurance.
At least two jurors are people of color: a man who appeared to be Black and an 83-year-old Native American man who said he had experienced racial profiling by police multiple times. Defense attorneys attempted to dismiss the latter, but Judge Jeffrey Jahns ruled in favor of the state, citing court rules. Striking him after the defense had an opportunity to move for his dismissal due to potential anti-police bias could give the impression he was dismissed based on his race, Jahns said.
Five other people who appeared to be white, three men and two women, rounded out the rest of the jury.
Prosecution's opening statement
Before reading from a transcription of the sheriff's emergency call, Serrano asked the jurors to consider two questions: Were Troyer's statements to a dispatcher a lie, and did he report a false emergency?
Serrano said Troyer's statements about how his neighborhood's newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, then 24, threatened to kill him made a 911 dispatcher believe the sheriff was in an active, dangerous confrontation.
The dispatcher then entered Troyer's call as Priority 0, which is reserved for a report of an officer's life at risk or that Mount Rainier erupting.
"Sheriff Troyer became 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 University Place's only two deputies on patrol to North Tacoma, leaving the city without police coverage for around 30 minutes.
Serrano also noted Troyer's seemingly conflicting claims about blocking in Altheimer's car, then Altheimer not allowing him to leave.
The first officers at the scene downgraded the call to stop others from rushing to the area once they realized there was no serious threat to Troyer, Serrano said. Still, the officers approached Altheimer with their guns drawn and frisked him for weapons. Altheimer wasn't armed.
Altheimer, who delivered newspapers in the area for about three and a half years, said he grew concerned that Troyer was following him after seeing his car for the second time around 2 a.m., Serrano said. He decided to approach the car after seeing it a third time.
Serrano relayed the gist of what Altheimer said to Troyer about following him: "Is it because I'm Black? Are you a cop?" Troyer did not identify himself as law enforcement and accused Altheimer of being a porch pirate.
The newspaper carrier walked back to his car but later saw Troyer's Chevy Tahoe following him again, Serrano said. Their cars faced each other in the middle of the street. That's when the sheriff called a law enforcement-only line that goes directly to dispatchers.
The police had pulled Altheimer over on his paper route before after residents reported seeing him go in and out of driveways, Serrano said. Those interactions ended quickly once the officers realized he was a paper carrier.
Officers responding to Troyer's call detained and questioned Altheimer for 20 minutes, Serrano said. Meanwhile, Troyer parked his car away from the newspaper carrier.
Serrano said the first officer to speak with Troyer reported the sheriff said he started following Altheimer after seeing him case his house for theft. Troyer didn't say anything about a threat.
The officer then grabbed Chad Lawless, the lead officer on the scene, to speak with Troyer, according to Serrano.
Lawless asked Troyer twice whether Altheimer threatened him, and the sheriff said no, according to Serrano. Altheimer didn't show a gun and seemed like he wanted to fight, Lawless reported.
Lawless, now a detective for TPD, is expected to testify during the trial.
Troyer team's opening statement
Bremner spent much of her opening statement casting doubt on Lawless' report and speaking to Troyer's character.
"The whole case that you're here for," Bremner said, "is based upon this quote-unquote lie."
She said the state's case rests on Lawless and his report, which he authored the day after the incident. Lawless forgot his body-worn camera when he responded and did not take notes while interviewing Troyer.
Bremner said the first officer who spoke with Troyer will testify that the sheriff told him he was threatened by Altheimer. She also said body-worn camera footage would contradict Lawless but did not provide details.
Troyer has a "clean, amazing, laudable record," she said.
Troyer grew up in Pierce County and graduated from Wilson High School, then became a sheriff's deputy at 22, said Bremner. She then referenced his handling of the murders of four Lakewood police officers in 2009 and the Powell killings in 2012, as well as his involvement in charity work and the foster system.
She also said Troyer has had no sustained complaints of racism, use of force or harassment during his career.
"He's been dedicated to this county and its citizens," Bremner said.
Troyer was trying to protect his neighbors when he noticed a suspicious car in his neighborhood last year, Bremner said.
"That's his job," said Bremner, who noted Troyer was still dressed in his casual work clothes late at night. "That's what he's supposed to do."
Bremner said when Altheimer approached Troyer's car, he told the sheriff, "I'll take you out."
"He took that as a threat and he said so" to dispatchers, Bremner said. But Troyer wasn't looking for a massive police response.
"He said, 'I got a guy here, I need some help to calm him down,'" Bremner said.
That exact statement is not reflected in a recording of the call to dispatchers.
Bremner said Troyer didn't retract his statement about the threat to his life during his interview with Lawless. Troyer told Lawless he didn't want officers to do anything about his report once he learned Altheimer was a newspaper carrier.
"Simple misunderstanding, miscommunication," Bremner said.
Bremner claimed Lawless erased text messages about the incident but said some remained where he referred to Troyer as a "bitch" and "douche bag."
"That's their only witness in a criminal case against the sheriff of Pierce County," Bremner said.
She also claimed Altheimer has a financial incentive in Troyer's conviction because of his lawsuit against the county.
The case may be simple, but it has huge ramifications for Troyer, Bremner said. She called it a "tragedy" and "travesty" that Troyer was in court.
"All of the evidence," Bremner said, "supports Sheriff Troyer. All of it."