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PD Editorial: Death by mental illness: A siege ends

  • Mendocino Co. Sheriff Thomas Allman uses a precent photo of the suspect as he gives details about the death of murder suspect Aaron Bassler during a press conference at the Ft. Bragg Police Department on Saturday, October 1, 2011, Ft. Bragg, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

It was apparent long ago that the Mendocino County manhunt was not going to end well, and it didn't.

But the search for 35-year-old murder suspect Aaron Bassler ended Saturday as well as could be expected — with no more officers put at risk and no more innocent people slain.

And it concluded with a collective sigh of relief for a community that's been on edge for more than a month while a heavily armed double-homicide suspect roamed the woods, breaking into cabins for provisions and weapons.

Aaron Bassler Shot And Killed

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Hats off to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies, including a U.S. marshal team from Louisiana, who brought the 36-day siege of Fort Bragg and neighboring areas to a conclusion Saturday. It was then that a SWAT team from Sacramento County shot and killed Bassler on a timber road in the dense forest.

Bassler was wanted for the Aug. 11 shooting death of Matthew Coleman, 45, of Albion and the Aug. 27 slaying of Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo, 69. In both cases, authorities say, the victims were gunned down without warning.

Yet there's no cause for celebration. Two innocent people, Coleman and Melo, are dead after patrolling lands that they were charged with protecting. And now there's one more death, that of the suspect, Bassler, the son of a Fort Bragg family.

Law enforcement officials did what they had to do, and we congratulate them for their persistence. At the same time, we're not persuaded our system of health care and our system of laws performed in the way they should.

Jim Bassler said he believed his son suffered from schizophrenia, but privacy laws prevented him from finding out whether his son had received a formal diagnosis or what kind of treatment he was receiving, if any.

Despite family warnings to county officials and pleas to force him to get treatment, Bassler was released from jail in March — after his latest encounter with the law — and moved into the woods. This set the stage for a series of violent confrontations.

There's certainly a need for privacy rules, and we understand the complications of requiring mental health patients to take their medications. Nobody wants to go back to the state mental hospitals of yesteryear. But it's hard to argue this is a more humane system.


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