OPINION: Victim of attack ponders the fate of the officer involved
Until Forest Grove Police Officer Steven Teets accepts a plea deal or is convicted in court, it's unclear what consequences he will face for his drunken, violent attack on Mirella Castaneda's home last Oct. 31.
If Washington County offered an official Restorative Justice program for adult defendants, Castaneda might have felt more in control of the process. Restorative Justice empowers victims by letting them shape more creative and transformative consequences for their offenders than the regular criminal-justice system allows.
But it also often involves victim and perpetrator sitting down together to talk about what happened, which wouldn't work for Castaneda, who is still too afraid of Teets to face him in person.
Editors 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.
Part 3: The case of an off-duty copy and a missing motive.
Part 4: A nightmarish trip to the Washington County sheriff's office.
She does, however, have ideas of how she would shape consequences for him if she could.
For one thing, she would not want him to go to jail or prison. "Honestly, I don't think that would be beneficial," she says.
But she would want Teets to lose his badge. "I don't think he should be policing at all," she says. If Teets somehow holds onto his badge, Castaneda would want him to move to a different police department, primarily because her stomach still clenches with fear just thinking about him.
She would also like Teets to go through counseling or programs for anger-management and alcohol rehabilitation.
And she would like Teets to "get more education on what Black Lives Matter means — and that it doesn't necessarily mean 'anti-cop.'"
Castaneda herself did that homework last summer after George Floyd's death.
"I wanted to know what they were about," she says. "If I put on a Black Lives Matter shirt, what was I saying and why?"
So she started googling and found podcasts, videos and writings that spelled out the huge systemic inequities Black Americans face.
From the documentary "Thirteenth" and podcasts by Dr. Joy White, she got statistics showing how Black people are disproportionately arrested, convicted and imprisoned. From YouTube videos and a county-sponsored diversity workshop, she learned of the long-lasting effects of redlining. And so on.
So Castaneda would like Teets to read or listen or watch things that would help him understand the Black Lives Matter movement better.
He wouldn't be the only officer to do that. Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann recently re-read Ashley Montegu's 1942 groundbreaking book, "Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race."
And he also read the more recent "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, who reveals the artificial hierarchy that underlies America's systemic racism.
"Implicit bias is based on the caste system we have in America," Reimann says. "We are groomed on that stuff."
Finally, Castaneda would like Teets to be evaluated and treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Learning that Teets is a combat veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed much of her anger to empathy. "That makes me very sad," says Castaneda, who remembers trying to get help for veterans when she answered phones for Washington County's Health and Human Services Department.
She feels America doesn't treat its veterans very well.
But sometimes it's the officers themselves that are the biggest barrier to much-needed treatment, says Castaneda, whose law enforcement friends and relatives seem to see counseling as a weakness that would taint their machismo.
That's why such counseling should be required, says Castaneda, who particularly worries that a police officer's hidden PTSD could be triggered on the job.
Her concerns echo a column Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann wrote for the News-Times last year. "Does PTSD impact an officer's use of force and/or social attitudes?" he asked, listing the many kinds of tragedies officers encounter on the job. "It takes a toll on one's humanity. It changes you and your outlook on life," wrote Reimann, calling for mandated resiliency training and regular psychological reviews throughout officers' careers.
Castaneda agrees. "Are we as a community providing mental health services to our police officers like they need?" she wonders. "How are we treating them? Are we making sure they are healthy enough to be officers?"
Just because she's scared of Teets, Castaneda says, "It doesn't mean that I can't be empathetic to his mental health."
Jill Rehkopf Smith 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 has shared 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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