Zachary Perkins
Zachary Perkins MCSO

Zack Perkins is a serial car thief. He's now accused of being a repeat arsonist, booked for setting a fire in the Multnomah County Detention Center that sent two corrections deputies to the hospital just weeks after allegedly setting a stolen car on fire in Northeast Portland.

Perkins, 27, is accused of—and apparently admitted to—covering up the smoke detector and sprinkler system in his cell with plastic before using the cord from an electric shaver and pieces of paper to start a fire, a probable cause affidavit says. Dark smoke soon came billowing from the area.

He was in the eight-unit "administrative segregation unit" where particularly unruly inmates are housed on the fourth floor of the tall downtown Portland building, said Sgt. Cathy Gorton, head of the corrections deputies union.

"Deputies went in there and could barely see in front of their face," Gorton said. Corrections staff had to evacuate other inmates to the jail's medical room for evaluation. The affidavit, written by a county prosecutor, says "the smoke could be seen and smelled over at least 4 floors of the building."

Two deputies were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. One was evaluated and released, while one spent "a couple days," Gorton says. "It got to him pretty good."

The hospitalized deputy was controlling the doors on the most secure floor of the jail, Gorton says, "making sure staff could enter and exit safely, including into the module where the inmates were. It got to the point where people started realizing he was not in good shape, and he was refusing to leave his post because he didn't want to abandon it."

Perkins was sentenced to 36 months in jail in 2012 for assaulting family members. In July, he was busted in Lincoln county, accused of helping to steal a car from a dealership. Court records indicate that he was arrested three separate times between August 26 and September 15 for stealing cars. In the second incident, on September 4, an affidavit says Perkins "was in a stolen vehicle near Madison High School when he got into a fight with his girlfriend and decided to light the car on fire. The car was significantly damaged."

The affidavit says he admitted to setting the fire in the jail last Thursday: He "explained that he had become angry so he decided to ask for an electric shaver. PERKINS then took the cord from the shaver and caused an arc which he used to light some paper. PERKINS had also wrapped the smoke detector and fire suppression systems in plastic so they would not function properly... PERKINS stated that he knew what he had done was very dangerous and that he is impulsive."

He's now facing a felony arson charge, a felony criminal mischief charge, a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge, and a misdemeanor reckless burning charge.

The Multnomah County Detention Center has taken a hit in recent months. Three separate floods at the Justice Center forced the closure of elevators to the jail in September (the elevators are back to normal now).