Multnomah County D.A. re-examines case involving mental health issues

Author: Mike Benner, Jamie Parfitt (KGW)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office said it plans to take a second look at a high-profile case involving a woman who walked into a Northeast Portland home and curled up on a 10-year-old’s empty bed last Monday.

The woman, later identified by authorities as Terri Zinser, let herself into the home of Kelsey Smith. Home security video shows the woman walking into to a child’s bedroom and curling up on the bed beside a pile of laundry.

Zinser remained there on the bed until Smith stumbled upon her and cried out for the stranger to leave. Zinser then got up from the bed and went to leave, but not before hurling an ottoman at Smith. She’s then seen on video walking out the front door.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office initially chose not to prosecute Zinser. But now the office says it will take another look at the case.

As to why they initially chose not to pursue charges, the DA’s office indicated that what Zinser really needs is mental health treatment, not jail time. But according to a statement, Zinser has declined to participate in voluntary treatment — and involuntary treatment, they said, is not likely to happen.

“Based on recent federal court rulings and recent history with this defendant having similar cases dismissed due to a lack of participation in treatment and the court’s inability to compel the defendant to participate in treatment, we had initial concerns about whether we could proceed with this case at this time,” the DA’s office said in a statement sent to KGW.

This reasoning dovetails with the results of a KGW investigation conducted last month into the civil commitment process. The bar for involuntary mental health treatment in Oregon is incredibly high, and higher-acuity patients often can’t or won’t engage with less invasive forms of treatment.

“The lack of mental health resources in our community is unacceptable when coupled with the inability to compel unadjudicated defendants to engage in available treatment options,” the DA’s office continued. “The current crisis of capacity at the Oregon State Hospital puts the safety of our community, and the most vulnerable persons in our community, at risk.”

According to the DA’s office, Zinser recently spent several months at the Oregon State Hospital, and staff there were unable to restore her ability to aid and assist her court-appointed attorney. She was then ordered to engage with community mental health treatment, but she did not appear for her evaluation and left the treatment facility.

“Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller dismissed the previous charges pending against her in early August,” the DA’s office said. “Our Strategic Prosecution Unit is reviewing this case and the previously dismissed cases to determine whether we are able to proceed with prosecution. Due to the ongoing process, MCDA will not be making further comments on this issue.”

Since 2018, Zinser has been booked on criminal charges more than two dozen times — primarily for theft, criminal trespass, burglary or harassment. The vast majority of those charges have been dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by judges without conviction, though a Clackamas County case from June 2021 remains open pending a determination of her fitness to proceed. A hearing on that determination was scheduled for Monday.

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