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Black newspaper carrier testifies about incident with Sheriff Ed Troyer

Dec. 6, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 7, 2022 at 5:50 p.m.

By Jim Brunner Seattle Times

The newspaper carrier involved in a January 2021 confrontation with Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer testified Tuesday in the sheriff’s criminal trial on false-reporting charges, facing an aggressive cross-examination by Troyer’s lead defense attorney.

Sedrick Altheimer, 26, who was delivering newspapers on his regular route that night, recounted how he was followed by Troyer, who was driving his unmarked white SUV, leading to a 2 a.m. standoff in a quiet north Tacoma intersection.

Troyer called an emergency dispatcher, repeatedly claiming Altheimer was threatening to kill him, leading to a massive initial police response. According to Tacoma police, he walked back his threat claims upon questioning by a Tacoma police officer.

“I get held at gunpoint. I get questioned and pulled out of my vehicle. Frisked. Asked questions. Treated like a suspect,” Altheimer said as he took the stand Tuesday in Pierce County District Court in Tacoma, questioned by Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik.

Troyer’s about-face regarding alleged threats by Altheimer, as outlined in a Tacoma police incident report, led the state Attorney General’s Office to charge the elected sheriff in October 2021 with misdemeanor crimes of false reporting and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant.

Troyer has called the prosecution a political witch hunt. He pleaded not guilty, and his defense attorneys have sought throughout the trial, which began last week, to raise doubts about the credibility of Altheimer and the Tacoma police account of that night.

Anne Bremner, Troyer’s lead defense attorney, in a cross-examination Tuesday, questioned Altheimer at length about the Jan. 27, 2021, encounter with Troyer, repeatedly noting that he was not arrested and referring to the incident as “a nonevent.”

She tried to get Altheimer to agree with her characterization. He did not.

“Something did happen. I almost lost my life. For a lie,” Altheimer said, referring to being ordered not to move and to show his hands by police officers with guns drawn.

Bremner later clarified that her “nonevent” comments were referring to the interaction between Altheimer and Troyer before police showed up.

Altheimer, who is Black, said he believed he was racially profiled. But on questioning by Bremner, he acknowledged he did not know if Troyer knew his race when he began following him in his personal SUV. And he agreed that he did not hear Troyer use any “racially disparaging” terms that night.

Troyer has said he didn’t know Altheimer’s race and started following him because he saw what he believed to be a suspicious vehicle. Altheimer was driving a Geo Prizm sedan and pulling in and out of driveways on the delivery route he has worked for years.

Annoyed at being followed, Altheimer said he eventually approached Troyer’s SUV, asking him whether he was following him because he was Black and if he was a cop.

According to Altheimer, Troyer never identified himself as law enforcement, but questioned what he was doing and asked if he was a thief. “He accused me of being a porch pirate, and he just talked to me like I was a lost boy,” Altheimer said.

Altheimer testified that he at no time threatened to kill or harm Troyer, notwithstanding what the sheriff told the emergency dispatcher.

His testimony was broadly consistent with what he’s previously said about that night, including in an interview last year with the Seattle Times. He noted that he did not seek out media attention, but was willing to discuss the incident when a reporter reached out to him in March 2021.

Troyer, who sat at the defense table with Bremner and co-counsel Nick Gross, is expected to testify in his own defense during the trial.

Bremner raised Altheimer’s filing of a lawsuit against Pierce County, seeking $5 million in damages. However, Judge Jeffrey Jahns restricted the defense from delving into details of his claim, other than to note the amount of money he is seeking.

Bremner also brought up Altheimer’s other encounters with people – both police and civilians – who have followed him or questioned what he was doing while delivering newspapers late at night.

Bremner also entered into evidence a copy of the News Tribune newspaper that Altheimer admits he tossed into Troyer’s driveway after the incident that same night.

The back-and-forth between Bremner and Altheimer was mostly civil, but they sometimes jabbed at one another over Bremner’s descriptions of his testimony.

“I’m just here for the truth,” Bremner said at one point after Altheimer corrected how she was portraying some of the events of that night.

“Yeah, I am, too,” Altheimer replied.

After Altheimer’s testimony wrapped up, prosecutors were set to call their final witness: Tacoma Police Officer Chad Lawless, who interviewed Troyer the night of the incident and wrote in his incident report that the sheriff had said he was never threatened by Altheimer.

Lawless was supposed to begin testifying Tuesday afternoon, but that was delayed after a contentious back-and-forth over whether the defense will be allowed to point out that Lawless initially sought to refuse to testify in depositions in the case.

Lawless and some other officers called to testify in the case invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, initially declining to answer any questions from the prosecution or defense in depositions as they cited fear of prosecution amid an atmosphere of hostility toward police, Jahns noted.

However, the judge said he rejected the Fifth Amendment invocations and ordered Lawless and others to testify, ruling their assertions about fear of prosecution were too speculative.

Jahns said he was inclined to allow Troyer’s defense team to ask about Lawless’ initial Fifth Amendment assertion in front of the jury.

That drew vehement objections from Tratnik, who argued such discussion would unfairly make it look like Lawless was trying to hide something, when he was just exercising a constitutional right on the advice of his lawyer.

“Your honor, even if this is relevant to his credibility, which the state does not believe it is, this is highly prejudicial,” Tratnik said.

Jahns appeared skeptical, asking why the jury shouldn’t just be allowed to make up its mind on the relevance, but agreed to allow prosecutors to file a written brief overnight and to decide in the morning.

Troyer’s defense team is expected to call their witnesses after the prosecution rests its case following Lawless’ testimony.

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