Column: The case of an off-duty cop and a missing motive
Part 3 of a series
First he kicked the truck with #BLM painted in white letters on its back window.
Next, he pounded on the large Black Lives Matter flag hanging against the garage door.
Then he tried to attack the woman who'd displayed those messages, which became prominent after high-profile police killings of African Americans.
To Mirella Castaneda, the victim, it's clear "Black Lives Matter" was what sparked the anger of the stranger who attacked her property.
Her house appears to be the only one on Steven Teets's route home from downtown Forest Grove that displayed numerous large Black Lives Matter messages — five if you count the one on the giant flag, another painted on her Ram pickup and three more on her Toyota 4Runner — along with a smaller-print yard sign listing Black Lives Matter among other human-rights slogans.
Castaneda didn't recognize her attacker so she was shocked to learn later that he allegedly was an intoxicated off-duty Forest Grove police officer who lived just a few blocks west of her. She guessed he'd passed her house before and was familiar with all her Black Lives Matter signs.
• Editor's Note: A crime story in Forest Grove cried out for follow-up. It's coming, thanks to an unlikely and lucky series of events.
• Part 1: A chance run-in with Forest Grove's police chief led a retired journalist down the rabbit hole to find the truth.
• Part 2: After her house was attacked, one woman works to protect her family and learn basic facts about their attacker.
As Teets charged at Castaneda and then kicked and pounded on the front door she slammed and locked, the 911 dispatch operator asked her why she thought he might be doing this. Castaneda says she answered, "I don't know but we have Black Lives Matter everywhere and that was the first thing he went to."
A short while after Teets left, when Forest Grove Police Officer Amber Daniels arrived to interview her about the incident, Castaneda says she took Daniels outside and demonstrated for her how Teets had walked up to the giant Black Lives Matter flag, stood there for a moment, then balled up his fists and slammed them into the flag.
Castaneda also says she brought photos of the Black Lives Matter flag and the signs painted on her vehicles when she talked with a Washington County Sheriff's spokesman four days after the attack.
News accounts by The Oregonian/Oregonlive and Portland's TV stations in early November all included Castaneda's description of Teets banging on the Black Lives Matter flag, as well as images of the flag and the vehicles.
So when she finally got to see the Washington County Sheriff's roughly 10-page crime report, Castaneda was stunned to find it did not include a single mention or photo of Black Lives Matter.
The recording of the 911 call was in the file but Castaneda said it was unintelligible.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Andrew Freeman, who sat with Castaneda as she perused the report and took in her dismay at the missing information, arranged for her to be interviewed the next day by a sheriff's deputy so she could add in all the Black Lives Matter details, along with a few other important parts of the story.
Nonetheless, the initial report's massive gaps left Castaneda feeling that her voice and her whole terrifying experience were being ignored—whether accidentally or deliberately she didn't know.
It all started with a confusing, exasperating wild goose chase through the Washington County Sheriff's Office that was almost as unsettling as the attack itself.
Jill Rehkopf Smith is a former reporter for Willamette Week, The Oregonian and Pamplin Media Group. She was editor of the Forest Grove News-Times for five years before retiring in 2017. She is now a member of the Forest Grove chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, which aims to educate and organize people to help further racial justice. In a series of columns, she will share the perspective of Mirella Castaneda, a Forest Grove woman whose property was attacked by an off-duty officer and who has struggled to make sense of how law enforcement officials responded.
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