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O.C. supervisors look into treatment of the mentally ill

August 9, 2011 |  3:50 pm

Fullerton death

Orange County's Board of Supervisors took an initial step Tuesday toward implementing a state law that would allow court-mandated outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illness.

Laura's Law, passed by the state Legislature in 2002 after a young woman was killed by a mentally ill person who had refused treatment, has been fully implemented only in Nevada County.

In the wake of the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man who died after a violent altercation with police officers in Fullerton last month, the issue of treatment for the severely mentally ill has shot into the spotlight in Orange County.

Advocates, many of them family members of people suffering from mental illness, made a plea at the supervisors' meeting for the county to implement Laura's Law. The law would have allowed Thomas' family to petition for him to be placed in court-ordered treatment.

The board directed staff from the county's healthcare agency to return within 30 days with a report on how Laura's Law could be funded and implemented in the county.

Civil liberties advocates have opposed Laura's Law as taking away patients' freedom. But family members of the severely mentally ill -- including Mary Palafox, the mother of a 27-year-old son with schizoaffective disorder who spoke to the board Tuesday -- say the current law leaves no recourse for families until their loved ones reach a crisis point or enter the criminal justice system.

Palafox said she had tried for years to get her son into treatment, but was unable to get help until he was arrested on severe felony charges.

"All of my screaming and all of my yelling for help went unheard," she said.

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-- Abby Sewell in Santa Ana

Photo: A crowd gathers in front of the Fullerton police station Sunday to protest the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who died after an altercation with several officers. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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