2021 IN REVIEW: New revelations, developments in Teets case
Although it started last year and won't likely conclude until next year, one of the biggest stories of 2021 in western Washington County has been the troubling saga of Steven Teets.
A Forest Grove police officer and then-president of the police officers' union, Teets was arrested on Oct. 31, 2020, after he allegedly banged on the garage and front doors of a home in Forest Grove in the middle of the night, destroyed Halloween decorations, and challenged the terrified family inside to come out and fight him.
The News-Times teamed up with the Portland Tribune, our sister paper within Pamplin Media Group, and former News-Times editor Jill Rehkopf Smith to investigate what happened.
In a series of news articles and columns first published in April, Pamplin Media Group reported that responding officers found Teets heavily intoxicated, to the point where he did not recognize them and even appeared ready to fight them.
But instead of taking their belligerent coworker into custody in response to the family's 9-1-1 call, the officers instead tried to help Teets, according to records obtained by Pamplin Media Group. One of the officers, Bradley Schuetz, allegedly gave Teets a ride home and even walked him to his front door.
Schuetz was indicted in May for official misconduct in connection with the incident.
And there was more.
Pamplin Media Group had reported just weeks before Teets' arrest on a fatal Oct. 8, 2020, encounter between Forest Grove police and a flagpole-wielding man whom a toxicology report found had a significant amount of methamphetamine in his system. In late April, Pamplin Media Group reported for the first time that Teets had been the lead officer responding to that incident outside a Forest Grove church, and that Teets had used a Taser on the man, James Marshall, at least once and possibly as many as three times.
The Washington County District Attorney's Office investigated and quickly determined, based on body-worn camera footage, that Forest Grove officers had acted within the law and were not culpable in Marshall's death. The state medical examiner concluded Marshall died of "excited delirium."
That official absolution has not satisfied members of Marshall's family, including his mother, Marci Marshall, who directly blames Teets for her son's death.
"This Christmas, we don't get to sit down with our son because of Steven Teets," Marci Marshall told Pamplin Media Group last week. "We don't get to spend any more Christmases with our son because of Steven Teets."
Teets this month settled a civil lawsuit brought by the homeowner whose family he allegedly disturbed on Oct. 31, 2020, when he was drunk and off-duty.
Mirella Castaneda has maintained for more than a year that Teets targeted her home because of the "Black Lives Matter" flag they had hung above their garage — an expression of solidarity with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Elijah McClain and other Black Americans killed by police. She told Rehkopf Smith that Teets kicked the family's truck with #BLM painted in white on its rear window, then pounded his fists on the flag over the garage door. She said she told the 9-1-1 operator that she didn't know the man raging outside her home or why he was there, "but we have Black Lives Matter everywhere and that was the first thing he went to."
As Pamplin Media Group reported, the initial report released by the Washington County Sheriff's Office included no mention of Black Lives Matter or suggestion that the slogan may have triggered Teets' outburst. That connection was first made explicit in the lawsuit Castaneda filed against Teets in November 2020.
This December, Teets was finally fired from his position as a police officer by the Forest Grove Police Department. He also agreed to relinquish his police officer certification as part of the civil settlement with Castaneda.
Teets is set to go on trial February in the ongoing criminal case against him. He is charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
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