A Washington County judge on Friday found former Forest Grove police Officer Bradley Schuetz not guilty of official misconduct for his response to a call involving an off-duty officer accused of vandalizing a home while drunk.
The case stemmed from a 911 call about 12:54 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2020, by a resident who reported a stranger had stumbled into her driveway, banged on their Black Lives Matter flag and was pounding on their front door, attempting to get inside.
The first officer to respond, Amber Daniels, who was Schuetz’s girlfriend at the time and now is his fiancée, had discovered Steven Teets walking near some parked cars about 50 feet from the house where the 911 call was placed. All three worked for the Forest Grove Police Department.
Daniels noticed that Teets was wearing clothing that fit the suspect’s description and she stopped, smelled alcohol on Teets, recognized him as a fellow officer and friend, and placed him in the back of her patrol car, according to the judge’s ruling. She testified that she was was in a state of shock and had no idea how to handle the situation.
Schuetz pulled up to Daniels’ car a short time later. After she told him who was in the back of her car, he told other responding officers to leave the area and clear from the call. He moved Teets to the back of his patrol car and drove him home about 1 a.m., Circuit Judge Brandon M. Thompson wrote in his six-page summary and ruling. Schuetz also directed Daniels to drive back to the Forest Grove Police Department and inform the on-duty sergeant.
Schuetz said Teets was so intoxicated that Schuetz had trouble getting him out of the car, to his front door and getting him inside.
A prosecutor argued that Schuetz failed to initiate a criminal investigation and then impeded a criminal inquiry by failing to turn on his body-worn camera and driving Teets home. The prosecutor called other officers who testified that driving Teets home wasn’t a good idea and that an officer unsure of how to handle the scene should have called a sergeant to come help.
The judge found the state proved Schuetz and Daniels violated police department policy by failing to turn on their body-worn cameras despite having them on at all other appropriate times earlier that evening and by leaving an extremely intoxicated Teets in his home without confirming that Teets’ girlfriend or anyone else was with him.
But Thompson found Schuetz wasn’t guilty of official misconduct, noting that police haven’t received any “specific training to prepare” for what other police witnesses at trial called “a highly unusual situation’’ involving alleged misconduct by a fellow officer.
He ruled that Schuetz’s failure to take any action to investigate was done “in an attempt to preserve” a future inquiry, “not to impede” one.
Schuetz testified that he didn’t know where else to take Teets because the regional detoxification center known as Hooper Detox was closed and the Washington County Jail during the pandemic was only booking defendants accused of felony crimes against people or domestic violence-related misdemeanors.
Schuetz and his lawyer, Steven Myers, argued that Schuetz believed an outside agency needed to handle the investigation to avoid any appearance of impropriety or conflict. Schuetz also testified that he didn’t interview Teets because Teets was so intoxicated and Schuetz didn’t think Teets would be able to answer questions.
Instead, Schuetz said he returned to the department after taking Teets home and shared with a sergeant what he had done. Schuetz testified that the sergeant said what he had done was fine, according to the judge’s summary.
“It is not unreasonable for the defendant to think this incident must by investigated by an outside agency, and any action he takes in the investigation could damage the integrity of said investigation,” Thompson wrote.
While Schuetz’s actions were “technically improper,” they were consistent with his goal of “preserving the investigation,” he found.
Deputy District Attorney Sara Q. Loebner argued that by driving Teets home, Schuetz prevented detectives from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Beaverton police from interviewing Teets at the scene.
Schuetz and Daniels also prevented the victims of the alleged harassment from positively identifying Teets as the man who had come to their house in the middle of the night, Loebner argued.
“It is the state’s position that identification is going to be a major issue” when Teets goes to trial, the judge wrote.
Thompson was struck by how quickly Schuetz decided to drive Teets home, noting that Schuetz arrived on scene when Teets was seated in the back of Daniels’ car at 1:00:05 a.m. and left at 1:02:12 a.m. to take Teets home.
“It is unlikely the defendant could formulate a plan to violate policy and benefit (Teets) in the ways alleged by the state, in two minutes,” Thompson wrote in his ruling.
Forest Grove police fired Teets on Dec. 9, 2021. Teets has pleaded not guilty to second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree disorderly conduct in Washington County Circuit Court. His trial is set for Wednesday. Teets also agreed to relinquish his police certification as part of a settlement of a civil lawsuit filed against him by the homeowner.
Schuetz resigned from Forest Grove police in March after five years with the department. He is now doing construction work. Daniels, who was not criminally charged, was fired from Forest Grove police and is now working as an investigator for the Marion County District Attorney’s Office.
Myers, Schuetz’s lawyer, alleged in a statement to the press that Schuetz’s prosecution was an abuse of prosecutorial power for political gain. He also said the on-duty sergeant at the time was solely responsible for all decisions in the case.
Stephen Mayer, a spokesman for the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, said, in a statement, “We respect the verdict by the court today following the bench trial in this case. A Washington County grand jury indicted this case after reviewing the evidence.”
— Maxine Bernstein