On May 1, 2012, five months after the end of the Occupy Portland camps, Catherine Garcia went into the streets of downtown Portland to protest Wall Street bailouts.
It didn't go well: She was arrested by Portland police after allegedly leaping onto the back of her boyfriend while a cop was trying to handcuff him.
Garcia was booked into the Multnomah County Jail on four charges, including resisting arrest and interfering with a peace officer. She was found guilty of the interfering charge, a Class A misdemeanor, in October 2012.
Four years later, Garcia's case may become a boon not only to protesters, but to criminal defendants across the state. An Oregon Court of Appeals ruling in her case this summer threw out her conviction—and could curtail how prosecutors throw the book at suspects by charging them with multiple crimes for the same act.
Appeals judges ruled June 8 that Garcia couldn't be convicted of interfering with a peace officer, because she was resisting arrest at the time she fought police—and couldn't do both.
"We further conclude," the ruling says, "that the Legislature intended to prohibit the state from charging a defendant with both resisting arrest and IPO based on the same conduct."
Susan Mandiberg, a criminal law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, says the rulings could reduce the leverage prosecutors have over defendants.
"One thing that many prosecutors do is charge more than one crime for a single behavioral episode, as a way to encourage the defendant to enter a guilty plea and not go to trial," Mandiberg tells WW. "These Court of Appeals opinions remove that ability, at least as far as these statutes are concerned."
But the fight isn't over: The Oregon Department of Justice is asking for the ruling in Garcia's case to be reversed by the Oregon Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the DOJ declined to comment for this story.
Police reports from Garcia's 2012 arrest describe a chaotic scene, with officers originally trying to arrest Garcia's then-boyfriend, William Storaasli, for refusing to leave the street when police ordered him to.
"At that same time, Garcia jumped on top of [Storaasli], wrapping him up in a bear hug as she said 'Let him go!'" reads a police report by Officer Todd Engstrom. "Garcia would not let go of [him] and hugged him with a death grip. It took all my strength to pry Garcia's arms off of [Storaasli]."
Engstrom added: "Based on my experience working protests, 'un-arresting' co-protestors is a common practice, and Garcia was clearly trying to 'un-arrest' [Storaasli]."
The Appeals Court ruling on Garcia's case casts a different light on her arrest: It says she was running towards Storaasli when she was punched in the chest by an arresting officer. During the ensuing scuffle, another officer used a hair hold and "a mandibular pressure point" on her, according to police reports, which added that these were "pain compliance techniques."
Garcia could not be reached for comment on this story.
Garcia was acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge on the second day of her three-day trial, and acquitted of one of two interfering charges and the resisting arrest charge on the third day.
At trial, Garcia's public defender, Chris O'Connor, argued the Oregon Legislature had clearly barred prosecutors from charging people with interfering when they were also resisting arrest. He cited a law passed in 1997, and amended in 1999, that says an IPO charge "does not apply in situations in which the person is engaging in activity that would constitute resisting arrest."
"I have been trying to wrap my mind around how the state can take a position to say that [Garcia] was resisting the arrest of Mr. Storaasli," O'Connor told Judge Adrienne Nelson, "and then simultaneously, maintain a charge that they know, and have been instructed by the Legislature, does not apply in situations where they think there was this resisting arrest activity."
O'Connor faced an uphill argument. Amanda Alvarez Thibeault, an independent legal contractor based in San Diego, worked as a public defender in Multnomah and Washington counties from 2013 to 2015. She says the combination of interfering and resisting-arrest charges was hard to beat in court, despite the 1999 amendment.
"I've had more than one situation where I would look across the table at the client and say, 'You know, I think we can beat the substantive charge, but I think you're going to go down on the resisting or IPO,'" she says. "And that's really frustrating."
But the Appeals Court ruling in Garcia's case could change that. Already, it's setting precedent.
On June 29, the Appeals Court cited the Garcia case to overturn the 2012 interfering with a peace officer conviction of Rose Ida Kountz, who shoved a Portland police officer trying to arrest her son.
Jeffrey Howes, a Multnomah County prosecutor and first assistant to District Attorney Rod Underhill, says prosecutors are paying attention to the rulings.
"Obviously, these are two opinions that we have read and reviewed," he says, "and as they now stand, they are the current state of the law, and my office will work to abide by those opinions."
Two courthouse sources tell WW that Multnomah County judges have begun throwing out interfering charges in recent weeks—and defense-lawyer efforts to toss such cases are already being called "Garcia-Kountz motions."
UPDATE: This story has been amended online to add additional details about Garcia's case.