PORTLAND, Ore. — For the last few weeks, KGW has been fact-checking attack ads aimed at some of the high-profile candidates running for office in the November midterm election. This time we're looking at an ad aimed at Mike Erickson, the Republican candidate for Oregon's newly created 6th Congressional District.
Why Erickson? Simple: We're proceeding in alphabetical order, so Erickson's name comes before his opponent, Democrat Andrea Salinas. We'll be looking at an attack ad targeting her Tuesday night.
A viewer contacted us to ask the question below after seeing an attack ad against Erickson — one that angered the Republican candidate to the point that he's suing his opponent and her campaign for $800,000.
Is Mike Erickson a drug user, as an attack ad appears to claim?
While the ad doesn't explicitly say that Erickson is a drug user, it claims that he was charged with drug possession and shows someone making lines of a powdery substance.
"The truth about Mike Erickson and law enforcement?" The ad voiceover says. "Erickson was charged with felony drug possession for illegal oxycodone."
The ad cites an Oregon State Police report from 2016. According to that report, a trooper pulled over a driver in Hood River on Sept. 17, 2016, after he watched the driver stumble to his truck, get into the driver's seat, then fail to stay within his lane. OSP's report identified the driver as Mike Erickson.
According to the report, Erickson blew a .12 blood alcohol content on a breathalyzer test — over the legal limit of .08 BAC.
While he was being booked into jail, the OSP report said that a search turned up a single 5 milligram oxycodone pill which Erickson said he'd gotten from his wife.
The report indicates that Erickson was charged with driving under the influence and unlawful possession of oxycodone.
Based on that report alone, it would seem the ad could be truthful in its claim. But according to reporting from Julia Shumway at the Oregon Capital Chronical, it isn't that simple.
In her reporting, Shumway talked with Erickson's defense attorney, who said she'd made a mistake in court documents that incorrectly indicated Erickson would avoid felony drug charges by pleading guilty to the DUII.
Shumway found the document in question and reported that it states "DAA has agreed to dismiss felony possession of controlled substance upon tender of guilty plea." Erickson's attorney told the Chronicle that felony charges were never on the table and that she erred in writing the document.
Meanwhile, the Hood River District Attorney — elected long after this all happened — told Shumway, "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 ... the only thing that was ever filed, that he ever faced, was the misdemeanor driving under the influence charge. Anything else is a mistake."
But Shumway got a different story when she spoke to Erickson before her first story on the subject. He did not dispute the existence of a drug charge and said that he was cited for carrying one oxycodone pill that he was carrying for his wife.
The reporter quotes Erickson as saying, "The judge dropped charges for possessing one oxycodone pill after we demonstrated it was my wife's prescription."
Erickson added in a statement provided by his campaign to Shumway, "I did the diversion classes required and the DUI was dismissed. I made a mistake."
But if the candidate was telling Shumway that the judge dropped the charge, how can his defense attorney and the Hood River DA insist that there never was a charge?
The answer could be one of semantics, the chosen definition of the word "charge." In any criminal case, the charges listed by law enforcement at the time of an arrest are not necessarily the same as charges brought by a district attorney's office and filed in court, much less those ultimately answered with a plea and not dismissed by a judge.
One thing we can deal with definitively — under Oregon law, possession of a single oxycodone pill is a misdemeanor. So it is false to say that Erickson was charged with felony drug possession, as the attack ad claims, though some errant court documents refer to a felony. And through imagery, the ad highly exaggerates the nature of the charge.
KGW's Laurel Porter spoke with both Erickson and Salinas on "Straight Talk," asking each of them about the allegations made in the add. Erickson reiterated that he made a regrettable mistake and that the DUII charge was dismissed, but he insisted that claims in the the Salinas ad were "100% not true."
Salinas said that despite the lawsuit filed by Erickson, she has no regrets about the ad.
"There were three different documents; the incident report, the release report and the plea petition that all cited possession of drugs as the charge. And it says charge on there," Salinas said. "And we actually flash up the incident report in the ad. So I stand by what we said. He was not charged by the DA but he was charged by state police."
The Story takes on attack ads:
- Fact-checking ads in the race for Oregon's 5th Congressional district (Part 1)
- Fact-checking ads in race for Oregon's 5th Congressional district (Part 2)
- Fact-checking ads for governor: Is Christine Drazan a right-wing extremist?
- Fact-checking the newest political 'attack ad' focused on Democrat Tina Kotek
- Why are there no attack ads running against Betsy Johnson?