Just after midnight on Halloween, a blaring car alarm and a loud banging sound startled Mirella Castaneda and woke her young son.
A man stood in her driveway in Forest Grove, Ore., slamming his fist into the Black Lives Matter flag draped over the metal garage door as the security alarm on the family’s pickup truck continued to beep.
Castaneda immediately called 911 — but when police showed up, they recognized the man as an off-duty officer named Steven Teets.
Instead of arresting Teets, though, one of the responding officers simply drove him home.
Now, Teets and that officer, Bradley Schuetz, face criminal charges in the incident that Castaneda’s attorneys say “terrorized” her family.
A grand jury has indicted Schuetz for official misconduct after an outside investigation by the Beaverton Police Department, the agency said in a statement Friday. Teets was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct last year. A second responding officer, Amber Daniels, will not face charges, officials said.
Attorneys for Teets and Schuetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Sunday. Teets has been on administrative desk duty since late last year, and Schuetz is on paid administrative leave, the Oregonian reported.
The charges raised questions about how police handled the investigation, including whether the officers involved treated Castaneda differently because of her support of the Black Lives Matter movement that has challenged police across the United States over fatal shootings and violent arrests. The Forest Grove Police Department has also recently drawn public scrutiny over the death of James Marshall, who died after police used a stun gun to subdue him as he was having an apparent mental health crisis.
Sheriff’s deputy boasted to extremists about beating Black man, called it 'sweet stress relief,' feds say
An attorney for Castaneda provided The Washington Post with a tort claim declaring her intent to sue the Forest Grove Police Department. The claim describes how police allegedly “worked in concert, either intentionally, or subconsciously due to implicit bias, to deprive Ms. Castaneda of her Constitutional rights” as they investigated the incident last October.
In a statement addressing the charges against Teets and Schuetz, Forest Grove Police Chief HenryReimann said he could not release any information about the October incident until the criminal cases are resolved.
“Sharing such information at this time (or rushing to make decisions based on partial information) could do more harm than good and could potentially hinder the City’s ability to address these important issues,” he said in the statement. “Once the criminal process is complete for each of the officers, an outside law enforcement agency will evaluate if policy violations occurred.”
In the suburb about 30 miles west of Portland, Castaneda is one of the only homeowners who openly displays Black Lives Matter banners and signs, according to her claim. About 25,500 people live in Forest Grove; more than two-thirds of those residents are White, nearly 23 percent are Latino and fewer than 1 percent of residents identify as Black, according to census data.
After the Chauvin verdict, Minneapolis activists fuel up and prepare for the long fight ahead
The signs allegedly attracted Teets’s attention in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, when he allegedly strode up Castaneda’s driveway, setting off the security alarm on the family’s pickup truck and pounding on a Black Lives Matter flag. Teets allegedly kicked the front door, shouted at the family inside the home and refused to leave.
“Officer Teets terrorized Ms. Castaneda and her family and yelled at them to fight,” according to the claim.
Fifteen minutes after Castaneda called 911, two Forest Grove police officers arrived at her home and identified Teets as he was walking in the street nearby, according to court records.
Investigators ultimately revealed that Teets appeared to be “highly intoxicated” when Schuetz and Daniels arrived on the scene, according to a memo reported by the Portland Tribune last month.
Teets allegedly “squared up” with the two officers, fists raised as if he wanted to fight them. He did not recognize his colleagues, the memo said.
The responding officers did not check Teets for weapons, according to Castaneda’s tort claim. Then, Schuetz drove Teets to his nearby home, “only blocks away from the Castaneda family,” according to the claim, and helped the intoxicated officer to his front door.
The officers who interviewed Castaneda on Halloween did not tell her that they had identified Teets as the man who attacked her home, nor did they divulge that they had already taken him home.
“For my own sanity and my family’s, I just felt like I needed to know what happened,” Castaneda told the Tribune. “This really shook my sense of safety.”
When communities try to hold police accountable, law enforcement fights back
Nearly three days later, officials finally disclosed Teets’s name and let a shaken Castaneda know that he had been arrested.
Castaneda has alleged that officers violated department policy and Oregon law when they “failed to tell [her] that the suspect lived near her family and carried a firearm as part of his job as an officer.”
Even after providing Teets’s name, investigators did not tell Castaneda that he was a police officer. According to her claim, she discovered that Teets worked for the Forest Grove Police Department only after she searched for his name on the Internet.
Her lawyers also alleged that police did not document the possible political motives at play when Teets targeted Castaneda’s home. The responding officers did not turn on body cameras during the investigation as required by department policy, nor did they note the existence of the Black Lives Matter flags prominently displayed on Castaneda’s property in their reports.
“The treatment of Ms. Castaneda as a second-class citizen based on her political viewpoint by the investigating officers added insult to injury, and further compounded the emotional trauma she and her family had experienced at the hands of Officer Teets,” her lawyer said.
The Forest Grove Police Department ultimately passed the criminal investigation over to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which brought charges against Teets in November. Reimann, the Forest Grove police chief, also requested an administrative investigation be done by the police department in nearby Beaverton, which charged Schuetz last week.
Castaneda’s attorney Michael Fuller told The Post that the criminal charges have given Castaneda hope that the city will address the failures that may have inhibited the prosecutor’s ability to pursue more aggressive charges in the case against Teets.
“I honestly didn’t expect much to come from the internal review, certainly not a criminal probe of the police officers involved,” Fuller told The Post in an email. “The charge of official misconduct substantiates what my client and I have been alleging for the past six months.”