Amid a national conversation about racial prejudice within the ranks of police departments, the ordeal has raised questions about the newly elected sheriff, who is White, within a community already reconciling the death of Manuel Ellis, an unarmed Black man, about a year ago. Ellis died of “hypoxia due to physical restraint,” according to the medical examiner, after police pinned him amid a scuffle that a witness said was unprovoked. His final words echoed the last utterances of other Black men who died in police custody, including George Floyd and Eric Garner: “I can’t breathe.”
Troyer, elected in November after serving as the office’s spokesman, denied that he had racially profiled Altheimer, telling The Washington Post that he began following the driver before he knew he was Black. He insisted that Altheimer threatened him but that he decided not to pursue charges.
“I wanted to let it go once we found out who he was,” he wrote in an email, adding that he has not been the subject of a complaint for excessive use of force in 35 years of policing.
Troyer said he welcomed an investigation into the 911 call. In a public statement Friday, he said he was “saddened” Altheimer “felt he was treated in an unfair manner.”
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to The Post that a committee tasked with reviewing police dishonesty would look into the matter.
Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young said Friday that the governing body was “concerned” about the incident but that it had no administrative control over the separately elected office of sheriff.
“We take this situation seriously and know that the public trust in law enforcement is paramount,” Young wrote in a statement. “As we have more information, we will have a better sense of appropriate next steps available to us.”
Reacting to the Times’s reporting, local civil rights and social justice groups took issue with Troyer’s actions and response.
“He pulled a Karen in January and it could’ve cost this young mans life,” tweeted Monét Carter-Mixon, the sister of Ellis, the man who died in Tacoma police custody.
Carter-Mixon, along with the county’s Democratic Party, shared support for Troyer’s recall.
James Bible, a civil rights attorney representing Ellis’s family, went a step further, saying Troyer should be charged for providing false information to police.
Bible said the narrative police gave immediately after Ellis’s death was contradicted by other sources, including a witness video and an independent investigation, raising concerns about the handling of public information by police and Troyer, then the spokesman for the sheriff’s office, when Black men are involved.
“This further demonstrates he was obstructing justice in the Manuel Ellis case, that he has perceptions of Black people, and specifically Black males, that impact his ability to be impartial, fair, objective and a legitimate conveyor of information to the general public,” Bible said in an interview.
He said it was saddening “that a hard-working Black person could be doing his job and be accused of criminal activity.”
Altheimer, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Post, told the Times he knew the encounter with police could have been fatal for him.
“They could have shot me that night,” he said. “It scares me.”
Altheimer told the newspaper he noticed Troyer following him as he tossed newspapers into driveways, before the sheriff, who did not identify himself as law enforcement, questioned what he was doing and accused him of stealing packages from people’s porches. When Altheimer asked Troyer whether he was targeting him because he was Black, Troyer told him he had a Black wife, he said.
Troyer denied Altheimer’s account. He questioned the report written by the Tacoma Police Department. Police spokesperson Wendy Haddow did not respond to requests for comment.
During the nearly five-minute 911 call, Troyer gave conflicting statements, at first telling the operator he had blocked in the man, who he said looked “homeless,” after he tried to trespass into Troyer’s garage. Troyer then said Altheimer had barricaded him, and he wanted to go home.
“I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me, and I’ve blocked him in and he’s here right now,” Troyer said in audio obtained by The Post.
“I don’t want anything except for him to just let me go home,” he said after.
He speculated, without providing evidence, that Altheimer had a garage door opener to access his neighbors’ homes.
“I’m trying to be polite to him, but he says I’m a racist and wants to kill me,” he said.
Troyer told the operator he needed “one or two” officers, but his claim that he was threatened prompted a response of 42 police units from several agencies, according to police records.
A dispatcher later told an officer that an “officer needs help” call gets the highest-priority response, second only to mudslides after an eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano, according to the audio of their call. The request for help was sent to 19 agencies, she said. If Troyer was more specific in his request for help, it would have been a lower priority and fewer officers would have been dispatched, the operator said.
“That’s kind of a common practice with him, of not getting information out of him,” she told the officer.
Troyer disputed that allegation, saying he only called 911 once before regarding a car burglary.
The day after the standoff, Altheimer jokingly delivered a newspaper to the sheriff’s driveway, he told the Times.
Troyer touted that he did not call the police — that time.
“I didn’t call it in or make a complaint at all,” Troyer said. “And no, I don’t subscribe.”