Pierce County Sheriff trial: Black newspaper carrier at center of false reporting call takes the stand

Sedrick Altheimer, a Black newspaper carrier at the center of the high profile criminal trial against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, is expected to take the stand Tuesday.

Altheimer’s testimony will be streamed live in the player above. Court begins at 8:30 a.m.

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office charged Troyer with two misdemeanor counts, including false reporting, for an incident on Jan. 27, 2021. At around 2:00 a.m. that day, Troyer called 911 reporting that a man was threatening to kill him. The call led dispatch to execute a high level emergency response to assist Troyer, though the suspect in question turned out to be a newspaper delivery man.

911 dispatcher gives tearful testimony in criminal trial against Pierce County Sheriff

Six witnesses testified Monday in the high profile criminal trial against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer.

On the day in question, Troyer called South Sound 911 on a law-enforcement-only line and spoke to a dispatcher claiming Sedrick Altheimer was threatening to kill him. That information was given to Leah Heiberg, another dispatcher, who issued a priority-level call out to Tacoma police officers to help the sheriff.

During Heiberg’s testimony, a state prosecutor asked what her reaction was when she learned Troyer requested only one or two officers to help him. Heiberg said she was not notified of the request until after she issued to priority call to police.

"That, at the point in which he was wanting one or two cars, was way further down the phone call, and we were way past that point," said Heiberg.

The dispatcher began crying on the witness stand when Troyer’s attorney questioned how she handled the call, and why several officers were dispatched, instead of one or two like Troyer requested. Heiberg said she had to make the decision based on her experience with previous officer help calls, which in some cases included officers getting hurt or killed.

With tears rolling down her face, Heiberg said "An officer needs help call, we have nothing except for that he needs help. Whether they’re responding to the scene, they’re different in information. One has a wealth of information, for the most part, and one just has nothing."

Zach Hobbs was one of the first Tacoma police officers to arrive on scene and asked Troyer about the encounter with Altheimer. 

"He told me that he was inside of his home, when he looked out the window and saw a gentleman standing outside with what he believed was a flashlight and a garage door opener. He believed that he was outside prowling houses at his neighbor’s house. So, Mr. Troyer went outside of his home, got into his vehicle where he followed the gentleman on his car. At some point, the gentleman stopped his vehicle and got out of his car where he confronted Mr. Troyer. He was yelling and cussing at him. And at some point Mr. Troyer said he knew he was a police officer. I don’t know if he knew that he was a sheriff, but he knew that he’d seen him on TV and that he was in law enforcement," said Hobbs.

Hobbs told the court he forgot to press record on his body camera during that talk, stating the police department just received the cameras two weeks prior, and he was still getting familiar with the routine of using it. He said he pressed record on his body camera after noticing his partner’s camera was on. Part of Hobbs’ video and audio was played in court.

State prosecutors asked Hobbs to explain what he was saying in the video. He told the court, "I can hear myself saying that he said he was threatened or threatened with something at first. And then he didn’t say he was threatened a second time."

In cross-examination, defense attorney Anne Bremner asked, "Did Sheriff Troyer ever, in your presence, deny being threatened by Altheimer?" Hobbs answered no. Bremner followed with, "Did he ever backtrack any statement about being threatened that you heard?" Hobbs answered no.

Darren Steiener owns the newspaper distribution company Altheimer works for. The defense noted that Altheimer had about 4,000 customer complaints against him from 2021 to Nov. 2022.

"This would be a list of all calls from his routes from customers, whether it’s a mis-delivery, or wet paper, or he failed to deliver a replacement copy, or not delivered in the location that was wanted, or a critical complaint—which would be somebody who has complained three times within a seven-day period," said Steiener.

The defense mentioned after the scene was cleared, Altheimer returned to Troyer’s house about two hours later to deliver a newspaper. Sgt. Mike Blair, who also responded to the initial scene, said Troyer called him after Altheimer’s paper delivery.

"He wanted me to find out what paper carrier the guy worked for, and I said ‘I’m not going to do that,’" said Blair.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Testimony begins in trial for Pierce County Sheriff; responding officers take the stand

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State prosecutors asked Blair if Troyer explained why he wanted him to find out which paper carrier Altheimer worked for. Blair responded no. The state followed up asking why Blair decided not to pursue Troyer’s request. He told the court, "Because I didn’t want to start another investigation. It was Tacoma’s call, they’d handled it."

Lt. Robert Stark said he also responded to the initial scene. He said after the call was closed, he reviewed the report of the encounter that a responding officer completed. He said it was a thorough report.

The defense asked Stark, "Were you aware that at that time Sheriff Troyer did not take any newspapers physically at the house?" Stark responded no. The defense followed, "Did anybody look into that? Do you know?" Stark responded no.

This is a developing story.

FOX 13's Franque Thompson contributed to this article.