PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — In the latest ripple effect from an off-duty Forest Grove police officer’s allegedly threatening behavior toward a woman who flew a Black Lives Matter flag, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton is weighing whether to file criminal charges against two other police officers over their response to the woman’s 911 call.
Since early November, public attention has been focused on the case of 10-year Forest Grove officer Steven Teets, who Barton charged five months ago with alleged disorderly conduct and criminal mischief over his off-duty confrontation at Mirella Castaneda’s home early Halloween morning.
Now, however, the actions of two other Forest Grove officers, Bradley Schuetz and Amber Daniels, are also being scrutinized by Barton, apparently to determine whether they gave special treatment to their fellow officer, Pamplin Media Group has learned.
Teets allegedly banged on Castaneda’s BLM flag, set off a vehicle alarm, charged at her and pounded on her front door, leading to Nov. 10 charges over what a prosecutor’s filing termed Teets’ “violent” and “threatening” behavior.
Pamplin Media Group newspapers reported on April 1 that Teets was so “highly intoxicated” when contacted by Schuetz and Daniels that he “squared up” in a fighting stance, fists clenched, and did not recognize them, according to a Washington County Sheriff’s Office memo.
Instead of arresting him, one of the officers gave Teets a ride home before sheriff’s deputies were called in to investigate, then provided needed assistance to the intoxicated cop to get to his front door and unlock it.
Moreover, a responding officer did not activate their body-worn camera, contrary to department policy, as first reported by The Oregonian.
A lawyer for one of the officers, however, contended in an interview with Pamplin Media Group that the officers hadn’t violated any laws, and suggested their more controversial decisions may have been ordered by a supervisor.
“There may very well (have been) mistakes made,” said attorney Steve Myers, who is representing Schuetz.
But he said questions about actions that look questionable “all should be directed toward somebody above their rank.”
Outside cops decided on criminal review
Shortly after the incident became public, Forest Grove Chief Henry Reimann vowed to bring in an unnamed outside agency to review his department’s handling of the case.
Reimann invited Beaverton police to conduct an administrative internal affairs review, or IA, of Forest Grove’s response, to see if discipline was warranted.
However, before finishing its administrative review, Beaverton paused that probe to assign a different set of investigators to review the incident criminally, to see if officers’ actions merited indictment and prosecution.
Capt. Mike Hall, a spokesman for Forest Grove Police Department, echoed Reimann’s vow that investigators would get to the bottom of what happened.
He noted that criminal reviews by prosecutors are often a matter of “good housekeeping” in controversial police cases, and didn’t necessarily mean investigators had concluded charges were warranted.
But Hall did confirm it was Beaverton’s decision to conduct a criminal review.
“That’s the route they decided to go,” he said. “We did not make the call either way (but) we were open minded on it … It was reviewed initially as an IA. Then it was assigned out to criminal investigators.”
Several potential issues
As far as a potential prosecution over the officers’ response, observers said the facts of the case could be reviewed for official misconduct, a charge commonly considered in police misconduct cases.
Second-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor, occurs when “A public servant commits the crime of official misconduct in the second degree if the person knowingly violates any statute relating to the office of the person,” according to the statute.
Although a supervisor at Forest Grove did alert the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, thus addressing the conflict of interest, it’s unclear if the responding officers brought the off-duty cop home before that decision was made.
Also, state law requires that police officers “shall” transport an intoxicated individual to a treatment facility if that person is a threat to themselves or others.
While there are no sobering facilities in the region, officers do sometimes take highly intoxicated individuals to hospital emergency rooms as a last resort, Hall said.
That did not happen in this case despite the threatening behavior that the Forest Grove officers observed after they found the highly intoxicated man walking in the street after midnight.
Another potential charge could be interfering with a police officer, if investigators determine that anyone intentionally took steps that obstructed the follow-up investigation of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Myers, the defense lawyer retained by Schuetz, said no charges should apply to his client or Daniels. “There’s no doubt in my mind neither one of them did anything improper,” he said. “They immediately reported it to their sergeant … There is, at least in my view, a very logical explanation for what they did on scene.”
“Ultimately,” he added, the investigation “took the appropriate course” after sheriff’s deputies took over the investigation of Teets.
Myers dismissed the failure to turn on a body-worn camera as required by department policy.
“I don’t think it’s fair to read (that) as some sort of intentional malfeasance,” he said.
For its part, the district attorney’s office does not release information about pending cases.
Forest Grove hired Schuetz as a reserve officer in October 2014 and then as a full-time officer a year later.
Formerly a dispatcher for Yamhill County, Daniels was hired as a reserve in January 2017 and then as a full-time officer later that year.
A lawyer for the Forest Grove Police Officers Association did not respond to a call and email.
“We’ll let you know”
In an interview, Castaneda wondered whether the officers initially worked to try to cover up the incident.
She said she spent 17 minutes on the phone with a dispatcher who described in real-time that the officers had contacted the intruder who she felt terrorized by.
But when the officers then came to her house, they made no mention that they’d located the suspect in the intrusion that had shaken her and her family.
Instead, the officers asked if Castaneda felt she could describe the intruder. She could and did, she said.
The officers still did not mention having contacted Teets. As they left, one of the officers told her, “We’ll let you know if we hear anything,” Castaneda recalled.
Schuetz’s attorney, Myers, when asked why officers didn’t tell the anguished crime victim that they had located a suspect, responded, “That is a legitimate question. However, that’s a question that’s more appropriately directed towards levels of rank above these two as to why that occurred.”
He declined to elaborate.
The Portland Tribune and Pamplin Media Group’s papers are a KOIN 6 News media partner