Josh Harris, who has become one of law enforcement’s fiercest defenders in a series of scandals, has entered the race for Pierce County Council.
Harris, 47, is running as a pro-law enforcement candidate and says groups calling for reform are obsessed with “racial issues that don’t exist”.
Harris, which owns Tacoma-based Integrity Construction, has inserted himself into two of Pierce County’s most controversial ongoing police sagas. He posted $300,000 bond to bail three Tacoma police officers charged with the murder of Manuel Ellis out of jail while awaiting trial. And he intervened in a criminal investigation on behalf of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, who was charged with making a false report.
Despite his campaign’s focus on law and order, Harris brings his own criminal past to the race.
From November 2001 to April 2002, Harris amended 17 checks given to him by a Tacoma nightclub for maintenance work “to significantly increase the amount of the check” by more than $24,000, according to the court records.
When Tacoma police questioned Harris, he initially denied it, but eventually admitted to the crime and pleaded guilty to two counts of theft, a felony and a misdemeanor, court records show. This week he said he felt justified in altering the checks, believing he was underpaid for the job.
“I openly admitted to taking the checks to pay me back,” Harris said in a phone interview. “I’m not bothered by it. I didn’t do any jail time. I didn’t do any jail time.
He was sentenced to 30 days in prison which he was allowed to serve under house arrest, 240 hours of community service and 12 months of supervision. Harris was five days away from completing his house arrest when his anklet triggered an alert.
A House Detention Monitoring Service officer confirmed that the severed ankle monitor was discovered in Harris’s bedroom and could not be found. But there were no other consequences in his criminal case, according to court records.
In 2007, he reported the theft of a pair of jet skis and their trailer and received an insurance settlement worth over $15,000. More than a year later, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy on patrol on Fox Island spotted the jet skis, abandoned in a field. The owner said they belonged to a relative, Harris, who had them stored there when they were reported stolen.
Harris told deputies he accidentally discovered his stolen property in an industrial park parking lot in February 2007, a month after reporting it stolen, and stored it at a relative’s house, court records show. He cashed four insurance checks in March, April and June 2007, but did not report the recovered property to police or his insurer, court records show.
Harris downplayed the significance of the criminal case in a phone interview. “I just forgot to call my insurance company,” he said. “It wasn’t even a mistake.”
He was charged with felony theft, misdemeanor theft, and a false claim charge, and eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, including concealment of property and attempted false claim. He received a one-year suspended sentence with two days’ jail credit, 28 days house arrest, 12 months probation and was ordered to pay $15,635 in restitution, according to court records.
“I have nothing to hide about this,” Harris said. “You make mistakes, you own them, you fix them.”
Bail for charged officers
After filing for bankruptcy more than 20 years ago, Harris has built a thriving construction business whose work includes renovations to Cheney Stadium and improvements to Seahawk Russell Wilson’s former Bellevue mansion.
Harris has occasionally made local headlines for his charitable work: helping a family displaced by a fire, providing tools to a struggling carpenter after his was stolen, donating a van to someone in need to get to work, distribute toys to children in need, and serve on the Pierce County CrimeStoppers Board of Directors.
But when Harris spent $30,000 of his own money to pay bail for the officers accused of killing Ellis, his philanthropy became controversial. It became a rallying point for officers and their supporters, who became more vocal publicly after their release from prison, clashing on social media with Ellis’ family and their supporters.
Monèt Carter-Mixon, Ellis’ sister, said Harris was the embodiment of a double standard in the Pierce County legal system and called her candidacy “a bad situation waiting to happen.”
“He is a defender of the police and their interests. If there are enough politicians supporting their behavior, the cops can keep making mistakes, keep killing people, keep paying for other multi-million dollar lawsuits that you blame the victims and their families for.” , she said.
Pierce County recently settled a lawsuit from Ellis’ family for $4 million. The family’s lawsuit against Tacoma is ongoing.
Harris also appeared in the investigation of Troyer, the Pierce County sheriff who will stand trial in July for misdemeanor misrepresentation and false or misleading statement. The charges stem from Troyer reporting to Tacoma police that a black newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, confronted him in his neighborhood around 2 a.m. on January 26, 2021 and threatened to kill him. When a massive police response arrived, Troyer backtracked on that claim.
Pierce County has commissioned an independent investigation into Troyer’s interaction with Altheimer. Harris came forward voluntarily and told investigators that he had his own confrontation with Altheimer a year before his confrontation with Troyer, and that it prompted Harris to draw a gun.
Harris’ 2002 felony conviction barred him from owning a gun, but he said he asked the court to restore his gun privileges and South Sound 911 issued him a license to concealed carry. He provided no documentation to support this claim.
Harris told investigators he didn’t recognize Altheimer’s car in his neighborhood late that night and began following it. Altheimer came out and confronted Harris, frustrated at being followed, according to Harris. Harris later told investigators that his handgun was in his lap during the conversation, and soon Altheimer left to complete his paper itinerary.
This led the consultants investigating Troyer to conclude in their final report “that Mr. Altheimer has previously engaged in inappropriate and at times aggressive behavior when he perceives that he is under suspicion in the course of his work”.
Lawyers representing Altheimer, who filed a lawsuit against Pierce County, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Altheimer had previously reported frequent harassment from suspicious white men when he was on duty late at night as a newspaper porter.
“OK Corral is just around the corner”
Harris is one of four Republicans seeking the nomination to represent Pierce County Council’s 7th district, which spans Gig Harbor, Key Peninsula, Fox Island, McNeil Island, Ruston, West Tacoma and North Tacoma. Incumbent Derek Young, a Democrat, is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
Harris has donated $20,000 to his campaign, hiring Las Vegas-based consulting firm Dark Horse Political, which recently handled Loren Culp’s unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial campaign.
A state law that took effect this year automatically restores the right to vote to those convicted of crimes because they are not actively serving time. For Harris, that means no further action is needed to restore the right to vote or run for office, according to the Washington secretary of state’s office.
Harris said he is running on a platform of cutting spending on “ineffective” programs to address homelessness, eliminating affordable housing mandates and emphasizing the law and the order.
Harris said a tinge of bitterness about police reform laws recently passed by the Legislative Assembly, as well as the handling of the investigation into Ellis’ death that resulted in charges against the Tacoma officers, were part of what inspired him to seek office.
He said he was confident that if Gov. Jay Inslee hadn’t “snatched the investigation out of the hands of Pierce County and handed it over to the [state] Attorney General”, the officers were never charged. Inslee took the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department off the case when he belatedly disclosed a conflict of interest.
Harris dismisses the case against the officers — which is supported by videos and eyewitness accounts that contradict officers’ claims that Ellis was the attacker — as “a political stunt” by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office to appease “a family unwilling to take responsibility for son’s drug addiction,” based on methamphetamine found in Ellis’ system.
“There’s always an excuse for you if you’re a white guy with money like Josh Harris and you make mistakes,” Carter-Mixon said. “Whereas, if you’re a black man or woman – any minority – and you’re doing something that’s not up to par, like my brother, they’re going to try to make you look 20 times worse than you you are, even if at the end of the day you are a victim.
Harris said the charges against Troyer and the Tacoma officers, along with the actions of the legislature, have undermined law enforcement and led to an increase in crime.
“We’re at 1890 Tombstone, and the OK Corral is right around the corner for us if we don’t fix things,” Harris said.