Tacoma officer: Troyer said newspaper carrier did not threaten him
The trial of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer took a marked turn Wednesday as a key witness appeared to hand the prosecution its case.
Tacoma Police Officer Chad Lawless took the witness stand after a lengthy argument between prosecutors and defense attorneys about the rules of cross-examination for him.
Lawless was one of the first to the scene when Troyer called a 911 backchannel to report a man, identified as Sedrick Altheimer, was threatening his life. On Wednesday, Lawless testified he arrived just minutes after the initial call.
“He knows who I am, he threatened to kill me, and I have him blocked in,” Troyer is heard telling dispatchers.
Lawless testified he and other officers found the two men’s vehicles parked nose-to-nose, and after patting down the man accused of making the threats, he interviewed Troyer.
According to Lawless, Troyer told him he was at home when he noticed a suspicious driver was pulling into his neighbors’ driveways, so he got dressed and went out to investigate.
Altheimer, a newspaper delivery man who is Black, testified Tuesday that he was out delivering papers along his route when he saw a white SUV following him.
Altheimer suggested he was annoyed after the SUV kept “popping up,” and he eventually approached the driver, identified as Troyer. Altheimer told the court he asked Troyer why he was following him, if he is a cop and if he is being followed because he is Black. According to Altheimer, Troyer didn’t answer or identify himself at the time.
“He just talked down to me like I was just lost, like I didn’t know where I belonged,” Altheimer said in court Tuesday.
Altheimer said Troyer accused him of stealing packages from peoples’ property.
“He accused me of being a porch pirate,” Altheimer said.
It was at this time that Altheimer said Troyer indicated that he would call the police.
Using a backchannel meant for law enforcement communications, Troyer reached South Sound dispatchers and told them a man had threatened to kill him. In audio previously played to Pierce County jurors, the sheriff can be heard repeating the claim multiple times.
A large police presence swarmed the location, the size of which was disputed by the defense and prosecution. Troyer’s attorney attempted to paint the high-priority alert as an overreaction by dispatchers.
After securing the scene, Lawless said he asked Troyer if Altheimer had threatened him — which he denied repeatedly.
“Did he mention any threat at that time?” Prosecutor Melanie Tratnik asked.
“No, he didn’t,” Lawless responded.
“So what did you do?” Tratnik followed up.
“Based on the nature of the call and the reason that we were there, I asked him did he make any threats toward you, and he said ‘no,'” Lawless responded.
Lawless testified Troyer told him he did not see any weapons either.
One day prior, Altheimer told the court he never threatened Troyer.
Altheimer was stopped by police, but ultimately let go. He admitted under cross-examination, that he never identified himself as a newspaper carrier.
Lawless said he brought up Altheimer’s job delivering newspapers to Troyer at the scene.
“If that’s the case, let him go,’” Lawless recalled Troyer telling him.
During testimony Tuesday, Altheimer said he’s sometimes stopped because he is Black. He told prosecutors he is regularly viewed by private citizens with suspicion when he’s just trying to do his job.
Altheimer testified that he did return to the sheriff’s house that night to toss a newspaper on his driveway, despite the sheriff not being a newspaper subscriber. He indicated it was a tongue-in-cheek way to let the Sheriff know what he did for a living.
Troyer is charged with false reporting, but has pleaded not guilty, and his defense attorneys have questioned Lawless’ credibility.
The court expects more witnesses to take the stand before closing arguments are made as early as Thursday.
Editors Note: This article has been updated for clarity.