A year after a mentally unstable man gunned down Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo and land manager Matthew Coleman, Mendocino County authorities continue to search for a way to avert future tragedies linked to mental illness.
"We have to do something," said Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown.
On Tuesday, the county board of supervisors directed staff to work on developing a pilot program aimed at treating mentally ill people who won't seek help on their own. It is expected to include a case management team and a court program for mentally ill and homeless people.
Aaron Bassler had become increasingly deranged before he ambushed and killed Melo and Coleman in separate incidents last summer, his family said. Bassler died in a hail of gunfire following a month-long manhunt in the forests surrounding Fort Bragg.
His family had attempted to get mental health assistance for Bassler but he refused and they were unable to force him into treatment.
Bassler's father and other mental health advocates on Tuesday asked the board to adopt Laura's Law, which allows for court-ordered, assisted outpatient treatment. It might have prevented the coast murders, Jim Bassler said.
"I feel it's very important," he said.
Laura's Law was passed in 2003 following the death of Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old woman who was shot by Scott Thorpe, a mentally ill Nevada County man. He also killed two other people and wounded three during a shooting rampage.
Thorpe's sister attended Tuesday's meeting to urge supervisors to take action. "One more loss to mental illness tragedies is too much," said Sharon Thorpe.
Nevada County authorities have found they are saving money by increasing treatment rates for mentally ill people, thereby reducing their arrests and court costs, Thorpe said. Nevada County officials estimate the program saves $1.81 for every dollar spent.
But Mendocino County supervisors and other local officials have their doubts about Laura's Law. They rejected it, for now, as too expensive and onerous, as have other most other counties in the state. Only Nevada County, which was under a court order to do so, has adopted the program.
District Attorney David Eyster said he doubts Laura's Law is the solution. The criteria for Laura's Law are so rigorous, Bassler likely would not have qualified, he said.
The statute requires that the patient must have had multiple jailings directly related to their mental health condition and a recent evaluation by a mental health professional.
Mendocino County Supervisors and other officials are hoping they can implement a similar program to keep their mentally ill and homeless residents out of jail and trouble without additional spending.
Staff members will be meeting with officials in the courts, public defender's office and law enforcement agencies to create a proposal. They're expected to present their findings to the board in September.