A woman who was confronted on her property by an apparently intoxicated and belligerent off-duty Forest Grove police officer on Halloween, has submitted a letter warning the city of Forest Grove and Washington County that she may file a law suit, saying she was treated differently by police because she displayed Black Lives Matter flags and signs on her home and cars.
The letter represents the latest wrinkle in a high-profile incident that has already led to criminal charges of one Forest Grove police officer and a criminal investigation of two others.
The notice submitted by Mirella Castaneda's lawyer, Michael Fuller, alleges that the officers who investigated the incident "treated Ms. Castaneda differently as a crime victim because of her political viewpoint," mishandled the investigation, and "denied Ms. Castaneda equal protection under the law, in substantial part because of Ms. Castaneda's political viewpoint and her support of Black Lives Matter."
As evidence of the mishandling, the letter notes the Forest Grove officers who initially responded to the 911 call did not turn on their body-worn cameras when they came upon their off-duty colleague, Steven Teets, in a highly intoxicated state, walking in the street.
Nor did they tell the frightened Castaneda they'd located the suspect, Fuller wrote, adding that initial Washington County sheriff's office report didn't mention Castaneda's prominent BLM flag as a potential reason why Teets selected her house and not others.
The letter does not demand a specific amount of damages, but says treatment of Castaneda compounded the "emotional trauma' her family suffered as a result of Teets' alleged night-time visit.
Local law enforcement officials have apologized to Castaneda, and conceded mistakes were made, but say they are restricted in what they can divulge due to the pending prosecution of Steven Teets, the off-duty officer who has been charged in Washington County Circuit Court with "violent" and "threatening behavior" on Castaneda's property.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton is also considering whether to file charges against two other Forest Grove officers, Bradley Schuetz and Amber Daniels, over how they followed up on Castaneda's 911 call, the Portland Tribune first reported on April 3. Both have been on leave since Nov. 30, 2020.
"Until all the investigations are completed and the facts known, it would be premature to comment on the tort claim notice," Forest Grove Police Capt. Michael Hall told Pamplin Media Group. "Once the investigations are complete we will be able to discuss the matter in more thorough detail."
Washington County Sheriff's Office, which took over the case at the invitation of Forest Grove police leadership, issued its own comment on the tort claim.
"Regardless of this notice, we believe deputies acted without discrimination or bias during this investigation. They understood the seriousness of the allegations, conducted a thorough investigation, wrote a report, and arrested the police officer who committed the crime less than 14 hours after the incident occurred."
Sheriff Pat Garrett told Pamplin Media Group last week that his department will address several mistakes made in handling the case, which contributed to withholding from Castaneda information about Teets' identity and occupation.
Called a tort claim notice, the form sent on behalf of Castaneda is required under Oregon law before filing a lawsuit against a state or local agency. In his letter, Fuller suggests mediation instead.
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