A Washington state sheriff is under fire, after he told a 911 operator a Black newspaper carrier was trying to kill him. He later retracted the statement.
Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer told the 911 dispatcher in January that Sedrick Altheimer, a Black newspaper carrier on his morning route, was parked outside his house and had “threatened to kill him.” Troyer later retracted the statement when questioned by the Tacoma Police Department.
Altheimer, 24, said the Jan. 27 experience made him fear for his life. Troyer was driving a personal, unmarked SUV and did not identify himself as a member of law enforcement.
Troyer’s 911 call resulted in more than 40 officers from multiple agencies responding to the scene.
“People are feeling scared that this happened months ago and we’re just now hearing about it, very similar to what happened to Mannie Ellis, it took months for that to come out as well,” said Jamika Scott, a community organizer for the Tacoma Action Collective to K5 News. “It does not make this community feel safe, it does not make this community feel willing to trust law enforcement when we can’t even trust them to be transparent about bad behavior from people within their own ranks.”
Troyer told The Seattle Times his allegations against Altheimer had nothing to do with race. The sheriff said he began following the carrier because the driver was acting suspiciously as’ he drove through his neighborhood.
“There is nothing to do with him being Black,” he said.
The incident began at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 27, after Troyer saw the delivery driver going from driveway to driveway doing what he described as prowling. Troyer then began to follow Altheimer through the neighborhood.
Altheimer said he noticed he was being followed, but didn’t know it was the sheriff who was behind him. “I’m throwing papers out the window, left and right, both windows are down … and I see this SUV hit the block.” Altheimer delivers newspapers six nights a week.
“I continue what I’m doing, because, you know, I’m working. I’m not doing any harm to the neighborhood, Altheimer said. He added that he had been followed before while on his route.
Eventually, after delivering a paper to a home, Altheimer walked over to the SUV to figure out why he was being followed. He said he asked Troyer who he was, but that the sheriff did not identify himself, accused him of stealing packages from houses in the neighborhood and called him names.
Altheimer didn’t identify himself as a newspaper carrier either and asked Troyer if he was being targeted because he is Black and was driving an older vehicle. Altheimer said he asked Troyer if he was a police officer but never threatened him.
“I said if you had a problem and you feel like you’re so in danger, then you should just call the police unit and bring him out here. So then he makes a comment; he’s like ‘Oh, I got four cars on the way,’ ” Altheimer recalled Troyer saying. “I’m like, congratulations.”
In Troyer’s 911 call obtained by The Seattle Times, the sheriff told the dispatcher the “suspect” looked homeless and was driving a “beat up” vehicle.
“Hey, it’s Troyer,” his call begins. “I’m at 27th and Deidra in Tacoma, in North End, about two blocks from my house, and I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me and I’ve blocked him in; he’s here right now.”
He continued, “I’m trying to be polite to him, but he just says I’m a racist and wants to kill me.”‘
After the dispatcher alerted 19 nearby agencies to an “officer needs help” call, 42 units responded to the scene.
When a Tacoma officer arrived on the scene and said “we don’t need the whole world here,” the huge response was called off. When police arrived, Altheimer was sitting in his vehicle on the middle of the street, 50 feet away from where Troyer was facing him in his SUV. He said he was shocked by the number of officers who responded, and feared for his life as he noticed one officer with his gun drawn.
Altheimer was detained and frisked then gave police permission to search his car, which was filled with newspapers, according to the police report.
Troyer then advised a responding officer of the fact that Altheimer had never threatened him and that he had not seen any weapons.
“All he had to do is calmly say, ‘Hey, I am delivering newspapers,’ ” Troyer said. Troyer, who was elected sheriff in November, expressed surprise that an officer wrote an incident report about the encounter because Altheimer was not arrested.
“I thought they solved it that night,” he said.
Troyer later denied he had spoken with Altheimer at all and said he didn’t even know he was Black.
“I couldn’t even tell you that he looked all that Black,” Troyer said.
In a statement following backlash over the incident, Troyer asserted again that Altheimer had threatened him. “I stand by my original recorded statement to dispatch, where I reported that there were verbal threats made,” he said.
Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young said the council is eager to learn more information about the incident in order to take action to get a better sense of what “next steps” might be available.
Altheimer told family members he is considering filing a complaint.
The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, as well as Jamika Scott with Tacoma Action Collective, called for Troyer’s resignation.
“They have a history of anti-Black surveillance and white vigilantism,” Scott said of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Scott added she believes it might be time for Troyer to figure out what his “second act” might be.