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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tacoma newspaper carrier settles lawsuit with Sheriff Troyer

Then-Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer answers questions during a news conference Feb. 18, 2020, in Tacoma.  (Spokesman-Review wire archives)
By Peter Talbot The News Tribune

TACOMA – A former newspaper carrier who sued Pierce County and Sheriff Ed Troyer after the top law enforcement officer called the police on him while he was delivering papers will receive about $500,000 in a legal settlement.

Sedric Altheimer’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleged that Troyer recklessly disregarded his civil rights and used “racial animus” when the sheriff repeatedly told a dispatcher that Altheimer had threatened to kill him the night of Jan. 27, 2021, initially triggering a massive law enforcement response. The lawsuit, filed in October 2021, came on the heels of a $5 million tort claim Altheimer filed against the county.

The county’s offer to Altheimer was filed in court records Friday. It resolves all disputed claims with no admission of guilt or liability from the defendants. Altheimer was offered $500,015 plus reasonable attorney’s fees and unspecified costs as determined by the court.

The lawsuit came months before prosecutors from the Washington State Attorney General’s office charged Troyer with two misdemeanors, false reporting and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. Troyer was acquitted of those allegations in a jury trial last year.

Jurors found Troyer not guilty, but legal experts told The News Tribune after the trial that his lack of guilt would likely do little to help him in his civil case, where cases have a much lower burden of proof. In civil courts it’s known as the preponderance of evidence standard, meaning a jury would have to decide whether a plaintiff has proven their legal claims are more likely than not.

The confrontation between Altheimer and Troyer began when the newspaper carrier noticed an SUV following him on his route at about 2 a.m. in Tacoma’s West End neighborhood. According to court documents, Altheimer, then 24, confronted the driver, later identified as Troyer, and asked if he was being followed because he was Black in a white neighborhood.

Troyer called a law enforcement-only line and said four times in a nearly 5-minute call that a driver he confronted had threatened his life. A dispatcher set off an “officer needs help” alarm, sending 42 law enforcement officers rushing to the scene.

The first Tacoma police to arrive quickly determined the incident didn’t need so many officers and asked dispatchers to downgrade the call, according to previous reporting from the News Tribune.

Altheimer was not arrested, but he was detained, patted down and had his car searched. Police also questioned him. His lawsuit asserted the detainment amounted to false arrest.

“Mr. Altheimer has had to make life-changing alterations to both his work and his personal life because of the trauma he faced as a result of the stalking and the police detention caused by Sheriff Troyer’s false accusations,” according to the lawsuit. “Mr. Altheimer feared for his life during the police stop and interrogation.”

In his criminal trial, Troyer testified that he decided to try to get the plates to Altheimer’s car after he saw the driver pull into several driveways from the wrong side of the street. Troyer followed him for a few blocks and pulled behind his car when he saw it stopped with its headlights off in a driveway. He said Altheimer told him, “I’ll take you out,” as the man approached his SUV.

Prosecutors claimed that Troyer backpedaled his statements about the threat to his life when police arrived, calling it a lie that constituted a false report. Defense attorneys said Troyer never took back his statement to a dispatcher, and they focused on his request for one or two patrol cars rather than a large response.