Lawsuit filed against off-duty Forest Grove Police Department officer
A Forest Grove resident is suing a city police officer over an Oct. 31 incident when he was off-duty.
The suit, which was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges Officer Steven Teets engaged in negligent trespass and invasion of privacy, and stems from an incident which occurred in the 1600 block of 23rd Avenue, early Halloween morning.
Teets was cited by the Washington County Sheriff's Office and charged with second-degree criminal mischief after Forest Grove police responded to Castaneda's 9-1-1 call, discovered Teets and later passed the investigation on to the WCSO, citing conflicts of interest.
Castaneda's attorney, Michael Fuller, said the suit is intended to secure potential evidence in the case.
"The suit was filed to trigger the defendant's legal duty to preserve cellphone records and any other documents related to the incident," Fuller said.
Castaneda called 9-1-1 at 12:55 a.m. Oct. 31. She told dispatchers that car alarms went off in front of her house, and she discovered Teets in the driveway. He then banged and kicked on their front door and demanded they come out to fight, she said.
The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, which first reported the incident, said Teets was apprehended nearby by Forest Grove police officers, who recognized him and gave him a ride home.
The following day, Washington County sheriff's deputies interviewed Teets and found probable cause for an arrest, although he was cited and not booked into jail. Sgt. Danny DiPietro said Teets was not lodged in the Washington County Jail due to standard procedures resulting from COVID-19 restrictions.
"Right now, we're only accepting felonies or domestic violence related crimes," DiPietro said. "We may accept something like this in extreme circumstances, but in this case, it didn't meet the requirements."
Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann said in a statement Tuesday, Nov. 11, that the incident, along with the manner in which it was handled, is under investigation by "outside entities at several levels."
Washington County is presently investigating the criminal aspects of the investigation, and upon that probe's completion, Reimann said there will be an independent review of the incident, and if it violated department policy, "personnel action will be taken at that time."
From the beginning, Castaneda believes she and her family's home was singled out as the result of a Black Lives Matter flag they fly above their garage. The suit suggests they were harassed "because of (Castaneda's) personal and political beliefs."
"The primary concern with the incident is that it appears this family was targeted for harassment because of their political and personal beliefs," Fuller said. "The family is also concerned that the defendant may have received special treatment after 9-1-1 was called. The police department has not explained why the defendant received a ride to his home, why he was not charged with a felony or a bias crime, why the defendant was not immediately identified to the family, and why there is no body camera footage of the treatment the defendant received after 9-1-1 was called."
Body camera footage of the incident doesn't exist due to the officer responsible for picking Teets up failing to have his camera recording, a potential department policy violation. Reimann said that, along with all aspects of the department's response, will be investigated.
"To assure objectivity and accountability, we have also requested an outside, independent investigation of the department's response to the incident," Reimann said in his statement. "This will include, but not be limited to, the use of body-worn cameras. As with all investigations, our goal is to assure impartiality and objectivity."
At this time, the Forest Grove Police Department itself is not named as a defendant in the suit, but Fuller isn't ruling that out in the future.
"If it turns out that the department treated the family differently because of their political or personal beliefs, the department may have violated the Constitution, giving rise to a potential suit against the department," said Fuller, who describes himself on his website as a "Lawyer for the Underdog."
Fuller was quick to note he is not making an "anti-police" argument, but rather one with personal rights and responsibilities in mind.
"This case is not anti-police," Fuller said. "I respect the police. My uncle is a retired Washington County sheriff. This case is about personal responsibility and equal protection under the law."
In his statement, Reimann stressed his and the department's commitment to compliance and accountability.
"The integrity of the Forest Grove Police Department is essential to the public trust," he said. "Please know that all allegations about the department's police officers are reviewed and investigated to assure compliance with local, state, and federal policy and that the officers are held accountable to those policies."
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