The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a man was unlawfully arrested by Beaverton Police in 2014, in an opinion issued Thursday.
Eric Kreis was arrested on the claims that he interfered with police by refusing to obey a “lawful order,” which the Oregon Supreme Court has now decided was not lawful.
Two Beaverton police officers were on patrol when they saw Kreis standing near a car in a restaurant parking lot around midnight, according to court documents. The restaurant had been closed for about 20 minutes and the parking lot had been the site of several thefts.
The officers suspected that Kreis, who appeared to be intoxicated, might have been attempting to either break into one of the cars or to drive under the influence.
They approached Kreis, asking him for his name and other information to which Kreis refused to answer.
Court documents state after more attempted questioning from the officers, and two other officers being called for backup, Kreis “balled his hands into fists, took a bladed stance and began shifting his weight back and forth.”
At that point, one of the officers ordered Kreis to turn around to be handcuffed for “safety reasons.”
Kreis refused, and was told he was under arrest “for interfering with a peace officer.” He was also charged with resisting arrest.
The case went to trial, and a jury found Kreis guilty of interfering with a peace officer and acquitted him of the resisting arrest charge.
Kreis appealed the decision, claiming he should have been acquitted on the interfering charge as well, sending his case up to the Oregon Court of Appeals — which agreed with the original ruling.
The Oregon Supreme Court reversed both the Court of Appeals’ and Beaverton Municipal Court’s judgements, stating that the Beaverton police officer who arrested Kreis did so without a “constitutional basis.”
The officer’s order that Kreis turn and be handcuffed “was not a ‘lawful order,’” the court’s opinion states, and the officer did not have reasonable belief that Kreis had committed or was going to commit a crime.
“We recognize that police officers work in dangerous settings and encounter daily threats that may require officers to take safety precautions that we are not entitled to uncharitably second-guess,” the opinion said. “But we do not agree that those dangers provide an independent constitutional justification for all orders issued to counter them.”
This could change the way cases like this are handled in the future, Kreis’ attorney Marc Brown said.
“Under Court of Appeals cases, even when a police-citizen encounter was unlawful, once the police had officer-safety concerns, an order such as the one given here was lawful,” Brown told OPB. “Under this case, officer-safety concerns do not automatically convert an unlawful encounter into a lawful one.”
“The Oregon Constitution protects a person’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure,” he said. “The court, while acknowledging that police officers encounter dangerous encounters on a daily basis, emphasizes that when a police officer does not have the constitutional authority to stop a person, an order to allow the officer to place the person in handcuffs is not a lawful order for purposes of interfering with a peace officer.”
Brown emphasized that the court did not rule that officers can’t take steps, such as placing a person in handcuffs, to ensure their safety — “It simply holds that if the person refuses that order, that refusal cannot be a basis for a charge of interfering with a peace officer.”
The case is remanded back to the Beaverton Municipal Court, which will need to make another ruling — specifically on if Kreis should be acquitted on his interfering charge — taking the Supreme Court’s opinion into account.