WA lawmakers want new police decertification law to apply to past misconduct

Legislators say they didn’t mean for past misconduct to be off-limits, but that’s how a state commission has interpreted the new law.

Ed Troyer speaks in a suit jacket and tie, with an American flag in the background behind him

In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, Detective Ed Troyer,  then the Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman, answers questions during a news conference in Tacoma. The Washington state attorney general filed two misdemeanor criminal charges last month against Troyer, now the Pierce County sheriff. The charges stem from his confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier in January. Troyer has denied wrongdoing. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Washington House Speaker Laurie Jinkins believes Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer should resign, rather than ride the wave of a legislative debate on whether new police accountability laws apply to him.

Troyer was criminally charged with lying three months after a new law took hold giving the state Criminal Justice Commission greater authority to revoke troubled police officers’ certifications — essentially, the licenses that allow them to work as cops.

Now some lawmakers are dismayed that the state commission won’t consider pulling Troyer’s license — and that the commission says it can’t even consider going after Troyer using its new authority. 

Certain legislators, including the prime sponsor of the new law, disagree with that decision. They believed the new law left open the possibility of retroactive punishment of law enforcement officers. 

Jinkins said legislators shouldn’t even have to engage in this type of debate, because Troyer should simply step down. 

"We shouldn’t even have to be looking at decertification for Ed Troyer, because he should resign,” Jinkins said. “He should resign now, he should have resigned yesterday, he should have resigned a month ago. He should resign."

Criminal charges against Troyer were filed in October, three months after the new law took effect. The alleged criminal behavior happened in January, six months before the law’s effective date.

A Crosscut investigation in August highlighted how the state’s new police decertification law, Senate Bill 5051, may not apply to past misconduct. 

That debate has led some state lawmakers to think clarification might be in order.

“A circumstance like this, where it appears a law enforcement officer lied to law enforcement to get them to come to something, and then made a false accusation against another person — this is exactly the thing that should result in decertification,” said Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who lives in the  county where Troyer is sheriff.

The charges against Troyer stem from a Jan. 27 incident in which he called 911 on a Black newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, and repeatedly claimed Altheimer had threatened to kill him. Troyer later told Tacoma police that no such threats were made, according to a police report. 

Last month, the state Attorney General’s Office charged Troyer with one count of false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant, both of which are misdemeanors.

Jinkins said the right thing for Troyer to do is resign. But if Troyer won’t do that, she said, the state should have some additional means of holding him accountable.

“On a moral grounds, this is wrong,” Jinkins said of the idea that Troyer could avoid being considered for decertification. If that’s how the law is being interpreted, she said, revisiting the law and tweaking it slightly might make sense.

While decertification wouldn’t cause Troyer to lose his job, as it would for other cops, the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance said failing to consider him for decertification at all would be “a massive systems failure for police accountability.” 

A spokesperson for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, however, said the agency’s hands are tied.

“This incident occurred on January 27, 2021. The new law took effect on July 25, 2021. Based on the previous law in which this incident occurred under, WSCJTC cannot pursue certification revocation,” spokesperson Megan Saunders wrote in an email.

State Rep. Roger Goodman, the chair of the House Public Safety Committee, said that’s because going back in time creates due process concerns. “You need to be on notice as to what the law is before you can be held accountable to it,” said Goodman, D-Kirkland.

Other legislators who worked on the decertification bill dispute that interpretation, saying there is nothing in the law that says it can’t be applied retroactively in circumstances like this one. “My intent was definitely not to limit it in any way,” state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, told Crosscut in August. Dhingra also works as a King County deputy prosecutor.

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said that in cases where a cop’s action clearly crossed a line or violated public trust even under previous laws, he believes the training commission does have the ability to go back and look at those incidents using its new, expanded investigation authority.

He said that’s a different situation than the Legislature creating a new criminal offense and punishing people for engaging in it before it was made illegal.

“We intended to leave a small safety valve for really egregious behavior,” said Pedersen, who was the prime sponsor of the new law.

That said, Pedersen isn’t 100% sure Troyer’s conduct would meet the new standards for decertification, or warrant a retroactive review — even though “what he did certainly put the life of the newspaper carrier in danger, and it was reckless,” Pedersen said.

The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance is asking the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on whether the new decertification law can apply to past conduct like Troyer’s. 

Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office, wrote in an email that the agency issues official opinions only in response to formal requests from legislators, agency heads, county prosecutors or statewide elected officials. As of Friday, Aho wrote, no such request had been made for the agency to clarify Senate Bill 5051's retroactivity. The law as written "is silent on the matter," she wrote.

For now, Goodman said his preferred way of increasing accountability for elected sheriffs like Troyer would be to change state law to require them to be certified law enforcement officers. That would mean that, if they lose their certification over misconduct, it would cause them to be removed from office as well. Goodman said he would support such a change in law if it were brought to his committee.

Pedersen, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he also would support such a change.

This story was updated to add a comment from the state Attorney General's office.

About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is Crosscut’s staff reporter covering state politics and the Legislature.