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Mendocino County Today: July 12, 2012

THE SUPERVISORS have shunted Laura's Law off to committee, where it is likely to die a silent death. As some of you will recall, Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo and property manager Matthew Coleman, were gunned down last year by a mentally ill gunman, Aaron Bassler, also of Fort Bragg. Lots of Mendo people have since agitated for Laura's Law, a non-mandatory strategy that they think may have headed Bassler into therapy before he killed people.

THE PROB with Laura's Law is its non-compulsory stipulation, and, of course, it's expensive to implement because it requires the usual array of highly paid helping professionals that fiscally squeezed local jurisdictions can no longer afford.

THE VERY DEFINITION of mentally ill is that crazy people don't know they're nuts. Bassler would not have reported for help. In fact, he didn't report in a timely, regularly scheduled manner when the federal courts ordered him into therapy prior to his Mendo rampage. Local cops knew Bassler was dangerously out of control but, whenever he was arrested for something, Ten Mile Court predictably sentenced him to, basically, nothing, and off Bassler went, back into the hills, a mountain man, isolated and getting crazier by the day.

USED TO BE, the 5150's went straight into the state hospital system; they weren't invited to report to the bin because they didn't know that it would be in their best interests to voluntarily present themselves for the straitjacket, or its therapeutic equivalent. But those of us who more or less enjoy a plausible facade of functioning mental health, also used to understand that it amounted to cruel and unusual indifference to allow the insane to wander around unsupervised, untreated, a clear and present danger to themselves and everyone else.

BUT THE SYSTEM of systematic help for the mentally ill was dismantled in California, and most of the rest of the country, 40 years ago, hence the Basslers of Mendocino County, of whom there are a dozen or so wandering the County at the present time, a fact you can confirm with the people who deal with them — law enforcement and the court system. They're in and out of the County Jail all the time, these ticking timebombs, and there's nothing that can be done with them.

NO ONE WANTS to simply say, “In the present political context there is nothing we can do to get the Aaron Basslers the help a rational society would help them get.” Instead, we have these endless conversations about what to do with them without addressing the underlying problem — the absence of the mandatory, unilateral incarceration, in a hospital setting, of the mentally ill.

SOME 2,600 firefighters are in various areas of the Mendocino National Forest hoping to contain several troublesome blazes. C-130's have flown in from Colorado to help beat back the flames, especially those raging basically out of control in the Colusa County (northeast corner) sector of the National Forest. The fires are being driven by occasional winds and the ongoing 100-degree heat. Some $2.2 million has already been spent on the effort to bring the fires all the way under control.

One Comment

  1. Kristina Ragosta July 13, 2012

    Dear Editor:

    Thank you for covering the very important issue of untreated mental illness and Laura’s Law. Unfortunately, the article posted ( distorts some important aspects of Laura’s Law (AB 1421) and how it could help save lives – and dollars in Mendocino County.

    While Laura’s Law is not a panacea – it has proven to be an effective tool for those who have embraced it – both for the individuals who benefit and for the counties who implement it. It is a proven (cost effective) mechanism to get help to people who don’t know they are sick before they end up in a crisis situation.

    Under Laura’s Law, medication can be included in the treatment plan, but there is a separate law and hearing for forced medication if it is needed. Although the law does not allow for medication over objection, it has not proved to be a hindrance its effectiveness at drastically reducing encounters with law enforcement, hospitalization, emergency room visits, victimization, violent episodes, etc.

    Mendocino County, like every other county in the state of California, has the ability to use MHSA funds to pay for the services required under Laura’s Law. Failure to implement this law is a disservice to those individuals it could help – not to mention to Mendocino tax-payers.

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