Column: A nightmarish trip to the Washington County sheriff's office
Part Four of a series
When the Washington County Sheriff's deputy arrived at Mirella Castaneda's home early on Saturday, Oct. 31, he did not tell her or her husband, Pablo Weimann, why he was taking over for Forest Grove Police Department Officer Amber Daniels, who already had interviewed Castaneda for half an hour starting around 1:20 a.m.
The deputy didn't disclose that the man suspected of attacking their home was a Forest Grove police officer and that, therefore, the city's police bureau had a conflict of interest.
If she'd known this, Castaneda says, she would have stayed in the living room and repeated her in-depth description of what happened — including Steven Teets's attack on the Black Lives Matter flag hanging in front of their garage.
• 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.
• Part 3: The case of an off-duty copy and a missing motive
Instead, she assumed Daniels already had conveyed her detailed account to the deputy. So around 2:45 a.m., after answering some questions about the ruined Halloween decorations, a physically and emotionally exhausted Castaneda went to bed. That left the deputy to talk primarily to Weimann, who explained he'd been inside and had only heard — not seen — the banging on the garage. Weimann can't remember if he mentioned the Black Lives Matter flag. "English is his second language," Castaneda says. "He has a hard time with it still."
Castaneda says the deputy told her and Weimann they'd get a case number in the morning via phone or text. But by 12:30 p.m. they'd heard nothing. So Castaneda called non-emergency dispatch to get their attacker's name and to make sure he was still in jail. She and Weimann were planning a Halloween Eve party with their children that night and wanted to make sure the man wouldn't terrorize them again.
After a few minutes, the puzzled dispatcher told Castaneda she'd been unable to find anything. "That's really weird," the dispatcher said, then promised to contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) about the case.
Around 1:30 p.m., Castaneda got a call from a Sheriff's Office sergeant who said the suspect had been arrested about 20 minutes earlier. Castaneda was stunned. She thought he'd been arrested and jailed the previous night. She also was concerned that the sergeant referred to him as "the guy who broke your decorations," as if the decorations were the defining part of the attack. "I don't give a f--- about my decorations," she said. "This guy was violent."
She asked why they didn't arrest him the previous night and the sergeant said they weren't arresting many people because of COVID-19.
The sergeant "seemed so nonchalant," says Castaneda, who remembers him saying "Oh yeah, have your party, it'll be fine." As it dawned on her that the sheriff's office didn't understand the violence and terror of the attack, that they didn't seem to be taking her fears seriously, she began having trouble breathing.
"I had a panic attack on the phone," says Castaneda, who recognized the symptoms from panic attacks she'd had years ago. "I couldn't speak. So he said, 'Hello? Hello?' and hung up."
Still, at least now the man was in jail, where he couldn't harm her family, Castaneda thought. But something still felt strange. She and Weimann decided to go to the Sheriff's Office in person to get the crime report with the man's name and address. Under normal protocol, the sheriff's office notifies a victim immediately after a suspect's arrest and provides the suspect's name, address, date of birth and place of employment. But that isn't what happened here.
Castaneda first had to fill out a records request form. Then a Records Department employee said she'd be right back with the report but returned saying there was nothing available. So Castaneda and Weimann waited a half-hour for the arrival of a sergeant who would supposedly explain what was going on.
During that time, their 10-year-old daughter called to say the attacker had returned to their house, apparently to apologize for his behavior, but that her brother, grandmother and a neighbor managed to get him to leave. Castaneda, who had assumed the man was in jail, began having another panic attack.
When the sergeant finally met with the couple, he confirmed the man had really been arrested and explained that arresting a person doesn't necessarily mean they go to jail. He also said he was sorry but couldn't reveal the man's name or address. Castaneda tried dropping her request for his name, then for his exact address, finally asking the sergeant to "just tell me which street he's on so I can tell my kids 'Don't go down that street,'" but to no avail.
According to Castaneda, an exasperated and suspicious Weimann finally yelled, "Is this guy a cop?"
"No," she says the sergeant replied. "He's a knucklehead drunk."
Eventually, after sensing Castaneda's fear about the man coming back to their house, the sergeant said he'd place a "No Trespass" order on the man so that, if he set foot on their property, he'd be arrested again. He also released one detail: The man lives in Forest Grove.
And he said the rest of the information was being sent to the District Attorney's office, so Castaneda should call there around 12:30 p.m. Monday.
On Monday, when Castaneda contacted the DA's office at 12:30 p.m., the receptionist asked for the name or birthdate of the arrested person. Castaneda was confused. Getting the man's name was exactly why the sheriff's office had told her to call the DA. The receptionist said she couldn't find the file without that information.
So Castaneda went back to the sheriff's office and filled out another request form, asking for her attacker's name and birth date. A different sergeant there told her that information was at the DA's office. Castaneda explained that the DA's office had just told her to come back here: to find out what method the sheriff's office used to send the file to the DA, and to whom it was addressed.
"Well, I don't know," the sergeant replied, but eventually he wrote down the suspect's court date and gave it to Castaneda, who exclaimed, "If you know his court date then you know his name! Someone knows his name!"
The sergeant replied: "Yes, someone does. It's the DA."
So Castaneda took the court date back to the prosecutor's office. When the receptionist checked on the computer and came up empty again, Castaneda started crying. The receptionist said she couldn't even refer Castaneda to a victim's advocate because "you don't have a case" but eventually she did so anyway after watching Castaneda continue sobbing. The victim's advocate couldn't find the attacker's name but Castaneda was told to come back Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the records manager for the sheriff's office had finally authorized the records supervisor to follow office policy and email Teets's name, address and age to Castaneda, who received that information about 10 minutes after she left the DA's office. In the WalMart parking lot, more than two days after Teets attacked her house, she googled his name and discovered he was a Forest Grove police officer.
"I freakin' knew it!" was her first reaction.
Her second reaction was terror: "This is an officer. We need cameras for our house. We need a gun. Because obviously if he comes again, the cops aren't going to help us. The cops are the bad guys. They've been protecting him the whole time."
It also occurred to her that Teets probably owned a gun. What if he came back to their home with his gun?
On Thursday, Nov. 5, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office asked Castaneda and Weimann to come talk with him about their experience. They agreed to return because the couple had questions, Castaneda says: "Is this normal? Do you treat every victim like this? Because this is horrible. What the hell?"
Eleven days later, on Nov. 16, they also met with Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, who ordered his Professional Standards Unit to do an internal review of how the case was handled.
The eventual report on that review, submitted Jan. 27, was honest and scathing (See Nick Budnick's news story) and prompted a flurry of plans for training sessions and reviews of certain practices. It explains how the stonewalling and confusion all started when the first deputy assigned to investigate the incident chose to "privatize" the report because the suspect was a Law Enforcement Officer.
Referring to Castaneda, the report states: "We agree that if we were in her shoes, we would be frustrated with facing the difficulties and struggles she had to endure in order to obtain the suspect information, which we acknowledge was in error."
And in another place: "We recognize that the errors made in this case created an atmosphere for failure that continued to spiral downward with each person she turned to for assistance."
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 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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