The defense attorney who represented congressional candidate Mike Erickson in his 2016 drunken driving case said Monday that her “mistake” resulted in court documents that incorrectly indicated he would avoid felony drug charges by pleading guilty.
As reported by the Capital Chronicle last week, Erickson was arrested in 2016 with a blood alcohol content of 0.12% after an Oregon State Police officer saw him stumble from a bar into his pickup truck, swerve, run a stop sign and turn without signaling. Officers found a 5 milligram oxycodone pill in his wallet while booking him, and he said he was holding it for his wife.
Erickson was charged with driving under the influence and two traffic violations, but a document prepared by his defense attorney, Tara Lawrence, and included in court records referred to felony charges.
“DAA has agreed to dismiss felony possession of controlled substance upon tender of guilty plea,” the handwritten petition for a plea agreement said in response to a question.
“DAA dismiss felony possession of C.S. in plea (illegible), recklessly endangering another person and the violations,” it said after the next.
Lawrence told the Capital Chronicle on Monday that felony charges were never on the table, and that she erred in writing the document. Hood River County District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen provided the Erickson campaign with a copy of her office’s plea deal offer, though that document was not included with court records.
The plea offer from the district attorney’s office said that if Erickson pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and entered a diversion program that prosecutors would “dismiss remaining violations and not file additional charges, including but not limited to recklessly endangering another person and unlawful possession of hydrocodone.”
“It shouldn’t have indicated that the felony charges were dismissed,” Lawrence said. “No felony charges were brought against him. That was a mistake on my part. There’s nothing more simple than that. It was a mistake. It was an error.”
Rasmussen, who was elected district attorney in 2020, repeatedly referred to Erickson’s petition for a plea agreement as “inaccurate” and said other charges weren’t on the table.
“The only thing that is a public record is that he was never, ever charged, he was never cited by the police officer with a criminal citation for a felony,” Rasmussen said. “The only thing that was ever filed that he ever faced was the misdemeanor driving under the influence charge. Anything else is a mistake. A handwritten plea petition is a mistake by that defense attorney.”
Tim Wong, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Erickson in 2016, has since taken a job at the Oregon Department of Justice. He referred questions to the Hood River District Attorney’s office Monday, saying in an email that he didn’t have an independent recollection of the case and therefore couldn’t answer specific questions.
Erickson’s opponent in the 6th Congressional District, Andrea Salinas, has run ads saying Erickson was charged with felony drug possession. He threatened during a joint interview with the Oregonian editorial board last Friday to sue her for defamation.
Erickson has also sent letters to two editors at the Salem Reporter, a local outlet that republished the Capital Chronicle’s original article, threatening litigation and demanding that it be retracted. Neither Erickson, his spokeswoman nor his attorney contacted the Capital Chronicle directly with concerns about the published article until after they were asked to comment for a subsequent piece, though his spokeswoman separately declined a request to interview Erickson as part of routine coverage of the 6th Congressional District race.
When contacted before the initial article was published, Erickson did not dispute the existence of drug charges. He said he was cited for carrying one oxycodone pill, which he said he was carrying for his wife.
“The judge dropped charges for possessing one oxycodone pill after we demonstrated it was my wife’s prescription,” he said in a statement provided by his campaign spokeswoman last week. “I did the diversion classes required, and the (DUI) was dismissed. I made a mistake.”
Erickson’s civil attorney, Jill Gibson with Lake Oswego firm Lynch Murphy McLane, said in an email that the “plea agreement” was incorrect and that Erickson was going to sue Salinas. She didn’t address questions about why Erickson didn’t dispute the existence of drug charges when contacted last week.
“The plea agreement was incorrect. No drug charges were dropped because no drug charges were ever made. Yes, he is suing Andrea Salinas because she continues to air the false ad, even after being told by the DA that no drug charge was ever filed.”
A Salinas campaign spokeswoman acknowledged a request for comment Monday afternoon but had not provided a response before publication.
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