Felony charge on mentally ill woman to be reduced

2015-11-13 | The Wenatchee World

Nov. 12--WENATCHEE -- A mentally ill Wenatchee woman initially charged with felony assault on a hospital worker will instead be charged with a misdemeanor and undergo court supervision.

Keri L. Walter, 48, was arrested in July 2014 after she came to Central Washington Hospital for a mental health evaluation and allegedly struck and spit on a registered nurse tending to her. Walter, who has bipolar disorder, was in a manic phase during the incident.

State law calls for assaults on health care workers on the job to be charged as third-degree felonies. On Thursday, deputy Chelan County prosecutor Nicole Hankins and defense attorney Robert Gower said they'd reached an agreement to have her case converted to a gross misdemeanor and sent to District Court.

Once there, Walter would enter a "stipulated continuance" to the charge of fourth-degree assault. If accepted, the continuance would let her serve a year on probation, and at the end of that time could lead to dismissal of the charge if she complies with a judge's orders and has no further law violations.

Under the original felony charge, Walter could have been sentenced to a standard range of between three and eight months in jail.

Her case drew the attention of the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, which on Tuesday filed a friend of the court brief with Superior Court Judge T.W."Chip" Small saying Walter should not be prosecuted for an act resulting from her bipolar disorder.

"The appropriate response to assaults in this context is a therapeutic one, not referral to police, jails, and the court system," wrote the organizations's lawyer, David Carlson.

Small said from the bench Thursday that Carlson had not filed a prior request to join the case, so the agency's friend of the court brief was not properly entered.

Walter pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges of DUI, eluding police and third-degree assault, and was ordered to undergo mental health treatment as part of her sentence. In her plea, she stated her bipolar condition contributed to the crime and she did not recall much of the incident.

Reach Jefferson Robbins at 509-664-7123 or robbins@wenatcheeworld.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRobbinsWW.