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The former Forest Grove police officer was ruled guilty of criminal mischief but not disorderly conduct.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro., Hillsboro Tribune - News Fidencio Diaz-Eguiza was granted a retrial because his previous convictions were not unanimous. Hillsboro man not guilty on charges in 2019 shooting of wifeThe senior judge who sentenced Steven Teets on Thursday, July 21, refrained from giving him jail time but described the former Forest Grove police officer's behavior as "disturbing."

Gary Williams was brought in to preside over the trial after Teets' attorney successfully argued for two Washington County Circuit Court judges to be disqualified.

Williams, who took senior status in 2017 after serving on the Crook County Circuit Court, both ruled on Teets' guilt and sentenced him Thursday after what is called a bench trial, in which the judge, rather than an empaneled jury, determines the verdict.

Teets and his attorney, Derek Ashton of Portland-based firm Sussman and Shank, voluntarily waived Teets' right to a trial by jury.

After finding Teets guilty of one of the two charges facing him, Williams sentenced the former Forest Grove Police Department officer to two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.

Prosecutors attempted to argue that Teets should be convicted of disorderly conduct as well as criminal mischief, but Williams only convicted him of the latter offense, a misdemeanor.

The incident

Teets was charged for his role in an Oct. 31, 2020, altercation early in the morning outside a Forest Grove home.

According to prosecutors and resident Mirella Castaneda, who testified as a witness at the trial, Teets stormed up to the house, setting off car alarms, and banged on a "Black Lives Matter" flag that was hanging above the garage. He then came up onto the front porch, damaged Halloween décor, and pounded on the front door while shouting.

Teets only left after the residents told him they were calling 9-1-1, according to witnesses. Castaneda testified that her husband lied and told Teets he had a gun to try to get him to leave.

At the time of the incident, Teets was off-duty and apparently intoxicated. Castaneda testified that she did not know the man outside her door was a police officer, and even when officers arrived in response to her 9-1-1 call, they did not identify him as a police officer.

One of the responding officers, Brad Schuetz, gave Teets a ride home instead of arresting him. Teets was arrested later that afternoon by Washington County sheriff's deputies.

Schuetz and another officer were fired, and Schuetz was charged with official misconduct. He was acquitted last week in a separate bench trial in Hillsboro.

Williams, explaining his decision to find Teets guilty of criminal mischief, said he believed Teets was trying to enter the house that night.

"It is disturbing, because you essentially terrorized multiple people inside that residence," Williams told Teets. "And doing damage, interfering with a car that causes a couple alarms to go off is one thing. Kicking a light is one thing. But I find, without a reasonable doubt, that you did try to enter their house."

Of Teets' behavior, Williams added, "It's just over the edge. It's frightening. It's disturbing. And that's what I'm most concerned about — this is the extent that you were willing to go in your intoxicated state. (It) was just very disturbing."

Williams did not find cause to convict Teets on the second count of disorderly conduct, although he admitted he is not familiar with Forest Grove or the neighborhood in question.

"I don't know Forest Grove. I've never been to Forest Grove in my life. I don't know anything about this neighborhood," Williams said. "The only testimony in the trial was that there were two residences on the blocks where the victims residence is. That's the evidence. It could have been in a neighborhood. It could have been in a densely populated neighborhood. It could have been in an area where there are only two houses in 5 miles. I have no idea. There was no evidence on that, so count two fails due lack of evidence presented on the public impact."

Williams ordered Teets to be evaluated for alcohol and anger management issues to determine if further counseling is needed. Williams also ordered Teets to avoid contact with Castaneda.

Castaneda sued Teets over the incident, alleging trespass and invasion of privacy. That civil case was settled late last year, with Teets agreeing to relinquish his police certification as part of the settlement.

More to the story

Andrew Freeman, a deputy district attorney in the Washington County District Attorney's Office, prosecuted the case. He argued Teets should be held to a particularly high standard as a police officer.

"The defendant made a choice to both work and live in a small community, and in doing so, he should be kept to a higher standard because of the public trust and authority and responsibility vested in him," Freeman said during the sentencing portion of the trial.

Freeman added that Teets "chose to commit a crime within that community against a family in that community who (are) essentially his neighbors, within blocks of him."

The damage wasn't just financial, Freeman said.

"He caused fear, anxiety and trauma to an entire family," Freeman said. "He undermined and damaged the faith and credibility of his work and the department and the structures and institutions to which he was connected."

Weeks prior to the Oct. 31, 2020, incident, Teets was one of four Forest Grove police officers who responded to a call involving a man who was carrying a flagpole and damaging a local church in the middle of the night.

According to records obtained by Pamplin Media Group last year, Teets used a Taser to incapacitate the suspect. The man, James Marshall, went into cardiac arrest and later died at the hospital. An autopsy concluded he had been high on amphetamines and died of "excited delirium," a controversial term often used to describe cases in which people die in police custody.

Teets appeared to reference the fatal encounter from earlier in October 2020 when speaking on his own behalf during sentencing.

"Unfortunately, I do not have any memory of that night (Oct. 31, 2020). I do not know what occurred. I can't speak to that. I can tell you the events that were portrayed are extremely out-of-line with my character," Teets said during sentencing. "Mr. Freeman is aware of the incident, that kind of led to this incident, that I was trying to deal with. I chose alcohol to cope with that. I don't have anger issues. I don't have alcohol issues. In response to that, I chose to drink — not a wise choice — and that led to this event."

Teets also said he spent about 10 years in the U.S. Army before becoming a police officer.

The DA's Office reviewed the use-of-force case that led to Marshall's death and concluded there had been no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Teets and the other officers involved.

Last year, Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann told Pamplin Media Group he didn't know whether any of the four officers had accepted the department's offer of counseling after Marshall's death.

Teets was fired from the Forest Grove Police Department late last year after spending more than a year on administrative leave as a result of the Oct. 31, 2020, altercation.

Ashton said following the trial Teets is unsure if he will file an appeal over the guilty verdict.


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