County: Forest Grove detective misused facial recognition program
Months before an intoxicated off-duty Forest Grove police officer acted threateningly toward a family flying a Black Lives Matter flag, Washington County authorities determined that another Forest Grove police officer unlawfully ran a peaceful BLM protester through facial recognition technology.
The incident last June, which was not reported publicly at the time, led the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which operated the program, to immediately shut off Forest Grove police access.
Forest Grove Chief Henry Reimann went public about the incident earlier this month after the Pamplin Media Group sent him questions about it by email. He posted a "letter from the chief" on the city's website saying the facial recognition incident was an example of Forest Grove officials "identifying and addressing mistakes."
"Though the intention was to protect our community members at the rally, we failed to protect the rights of the individual," Reimann wrote. "The officer was counseled and we required department-wide training. In addition, due largely to privacy, equity and bias issues associated with this type of technology, the program was discontinued county-wide."
Reimann noted other recent news — including the Washington County district attorney's indictment of Forest Grove Officer Bradley Schuetz early this month.
The indictment, for official misconduct, pertains to Schuetz's response to the widely publicized 9-1-1 call made by Mirella Castaneda when another Forest Grove officer, Steven Teets, allegedly accosted her and her family at her house in the middle of the night last October.
"Once the criminal process is complete for each of the officers, an outside law enforcement agency will evaluate if policy violations occurred," Reimann wrote.
The facial recognition episode is just the latest revelation about the Forest Grove department in recent months. It occurred while Teets was president of the Forest Grove Police Officers Association, the local police union. The union was tasked with protecting the rights of Darren Pomeroy, the officer whom county officials concluded to have handled the photo improperly.
The facial recognition incident, along with Teets' involvement in an in-custody death of a man he tasered on Oct. 8, 2020, provides more information about the pressures Teets was under in the months prior to his trespassing on the Castaneda family's property, acting in what what prosecutors said was a threatening and violent manner.
In April, former Forest Grove police officer Tom Siciliano told Pamplin Media Group that based on media coverage of the Oct. 31 incident at Castaneda's home, he suspected Teets' behavior that night may have been in part driven by frustration over criticisms of police.
Castaneda has filed a notice informing the city of a potential lawsuit and accusing it of a politically biased police response.
On June 2, one week after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, roughly 300 people gathered at the Highway 8 flagpole in Forest Grove for a peaceful demonstration.
At the event, according to records released under a public records request, Pomeroy, a Forest Grove police detective, took a photo of a person with long yellow hair who was wearing pink sunglasses. Over their shoulder, they carried a pink-and-blue flag labeled "anti-fascist action."
At 5:49 p.m. that day, Pomeroy ran the photo through a facial recognition system operated by the Washington County Sheriff's Office to allow computer-assisted searches of mug shots taken during jail bookings.
The sheriff's policy governing use of the program explicitly notes that it cannot be used for mass surveillance or to monitor people based solely on political activity. It states that among the acceptable uses of the technology is when an officer "has reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime."
On his form submitted to run the photo, Pomeroy indicated he did have reasonable suspicion, writing "suspicion" as the justification.
But the next day, Chief Deputy Sheriff John Koch sent an "incident memo" to Reimann stating that sheriff's staff that morning had audited the system and immediately flagged Pomeroy's use of the system as improper.
"Using images of protesters is against policy," Koch wrote, adding that in typo-ridden remarks to dispatch about running of the photo, Pomeroy wrote: "Documenting possible Antifia member."
Added Koch, "No indication of a criminal nexus was noted in the incident, and the only other comment by the officer was 'Subject was hold a flag stating Antifascit Action.'"
Koch explained that Forest Grove would be not be allowed to use the program again unless the department conducted a training for officers.
"Since there was not a criminal nexus for the search, we are temporarily revoking Forest Grove Police's access to the Washington County Sheriff's Office PSWEB Facial Recognition Program," Koch wrote. "This first revocation will be for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days if Forest Grove PD can provide records that all employees with access have been trained in policy and law, access to the program can be restored."
One week later, Amazon, the program vendor, issued an announcement that it would no longer be selling the system used by departments like Washington County. Amazon's decision prompted Sheriff Pat Garrett to shut down Washington County's program altogether.
ACLU of Oregon last year secured a court injunction blocking the city of Portland from live-streaming protests, citing the Oregon law that forbids police collection of information about political activities without evidence of a crime. Told of the Forest Grove incident, the group's interim Legal Director Kelly Simon said in an email, "Oregon law plainly prohibits police from collecting and maintaining information about people based on their political viewpoints or activities. We received complaints from people throughout Oregon during the 2020 racial justice protests regarding violations of this law, including in Washington County."
Chief: 'Somebody made a mistake'
Reimann, in his letter to the community, said that city officials trained officers in the facial recognition system. He also stated that the officer involved received a "counseling," apparently referring to the lowest form of discipline available.
The chief's public statement echoed Koch in saying the protester profiled by Pomeroy — who was not named in the statement — had committed no crime, so there was no basis for running the photo.
In a telephone interview last week, Reimann bristled when asked if he had reported the officer's claim of "reasonable suspicion" of a crime having occurred to District Attorney Kevin Barton as an instance of potential untruthfulness. Reimann did not do so, according to a subsequent records request.
"Somebody made a mistake. The mistake was corrected," Reimann said, while declining to answer the question. Asked for a copy of the department's guidance on Brady reporting, he suggested the article would be unfair and hung up on Pamplin Media Group's reporter.
In keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which requires that defense lawyers be given information about officers who have questionable integrity, Barton sends an annual letter to local police chiefs requesting that he be informed of an evidence that undermines the credibility of potential witnesses, including police officers. That includes "evidence of bias, prior false reports, reputation for untruthfulness, opinions regarding untruthfulness … and any other evidence diminishing the credibility of the witness," Barton wrote.
Some current and former law enforcement officials told Pamplin Media Group that without more information about his thought process, Pomeroy's claim of reasonable suspicion despite no crime having occurred is unlikely to reach the standard set under Brady.
In Washington County, that decision is made by Barton and an advisory committee that reviews the evidence on his behalf.
"This incident does not fall under Brady," Reimann wrote in an email to Pamplin Media Group after ending the phone conversation.
Reimann questioned earlier article
In his public statement earlier this month on the city's website, Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann took issue with an article published by Pamplin Media Group about an earlier incident involving Officer Steven Teets.
On Oct. 8, Teets used a Taser to shock a man, James Marshall, who was undergoing a mental health crisis. Marshall stopped breathing and went into a coma. He died two days later in the hospital.
The article reported that members of Marshall's family noted that hospital staff told them he was tasered near his heart. They also shared photos of what appeared to be a Taser mark on Marshall's chest, contrary to a manufacturer's guidance to avoid shocking people in the chest.
Police, including Reimann, said Teets tasered Marshall only in the back. But a Taser expert contacted by Pamplin Media Group said the mark on Marshall's chest and body camera footage — with the sound of a Taser activating just after Teets pointed his weapon toward Marshall's chest — suggested the family is correct.
After the article was published on Pamplin Media Group websites, Reimann alleged that it directed readers to a "false conclusion."
In a phone call, he said he was referring to the belief that Marshall was tasered in the chest.
As Pamplin Media Group's reporter explained to Reimann, the expert consulted for the article is an ex-police officer and Taser expert who had served as a defense expert witness for the city of Portland police for seven years.
"I appreciate your objectivity overall in the article," Reimann said. "You did a good job."
In his letter to the community, however, he suggested any questions over the official narrative of the incident were unfounded.
"The investigation into the events of that evening is complete, and the relevant facts are known, despite what was published by the media," he wrote.
— Nick Budnick
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