The news hasn't been good for the mentally ill lately, particularly when they cross paths with law enforcement.

But this column isn't about second guessing the most recent shooting death of a mentally ill 18-year-old Buttonwillow man last month.

Rather, I'm focusing on a unique effort begun last fall as a means to make such shootings a distant memory.

The Mental Health Collaborative of Kern County was founded by local attorney Fawn Dessy and therapist Russ Sempell.

This isn't a government group and its only agenda is to raise awareness and share information. But in just a few meetings, the group has created a lot of hopeful buzz.

"They've surprised the heck out of me," said Chris Reilly, Behavioral Health Director at Clinica Sierra Vista. "They're not attached to any government entity. That turns out to be a good thing."

Reilly said he's heard from a lot frustrated family members who've tried to get help for their mentally ill loved ones only to be thwarted by a monolithic system.

He estimated there are 60,000 to 70,000 mentally ill Kern residents. But the public system only serves, at most, 17,000.

"We've got to get more people in the door," he said.

At some point the Collaborative's meetings will have to get more pointed, he said..

For now, though it's been an eye opening forum for providers to know what their services really look like from the consumers' point of view -- not so great.

Meetings have been heavily attended by a wide array of people from parents to college representatives.

That's because Dessy and Sempell have both reached out to numerous people in the community to bring them to the committee meetings.

Most recently, Dessy has been talking with the District Attorney's office about creating a diversion court for mentally ill people convicted of lesser crimes.

"They were really receptive to the idea," Dessy said. "But they had no idea what services County Mental Health offered or how to access them, there was no open line of communication there."

So the Collaborative is looking at how that can be fixed.

Dessy is hoping such a mental health diversion court could be worked into Laura's Law, should that be adopted in Kern County.

Laura's Law was passed by the Legislature in 2002 but left up to each county to implement.

Laura's Law allows court-ordered treatment for severely mentally ill people before a crime is committed or they so degenerate that they hurt themselves.

Though Dessy and others (myself included) are strong proponents of Laura's Law, the Kern County Mental Health Department has been far less than lukewarm on the idea, citing its potential costs and other concerns.

Even so, the Kern County Behavioral Health Board assigned a committee to study the law's pros and cons.

That was back in November. That committee has yet to meet.

And there, my friends, is probably the best example of government- versus citizen-led action.

Anyhoo, Laura's Law is specific to people who are refusing treatment, which is common among the severely mentally ill.

I think Laura's Law could be a help to the mentally ill and their families who feel powerless and terrified when their loved one has such a break with reality that they become dangerous.

When that happens, families are often afraid to call law enforcement because of shootings like the one in Buttonwillow.

Back in September, Davon Mosley quit taking his medication and became more and more erratic. His parents, Lorraine and Bruce Mosley, swallowed their fear and did call law enforcement hoping officers would bring a mental health team.

No one came.

After Davon cut some relatives on their arms with a machete, law enforcement did show up. He was arrested and has been in Lerdo ever since.

He's expected to be released soon on probation, but will have a strike on his record, according to Bruce Mosley.

"Some times I feel like we're losing the battle," Lorraine Mosley said of efforts to change how the county deals with the mentally ill. "But if I give up, my son's life might not be spared next time."

Dessy, whose grown daughter is also mentally ill, understood all too well.

"That pinpoints the biggest fears of all parents like us," she said. And it underscores her reasons for forming the Collaborative. "You're supposed to call law enforcement when they get out of control, but we're afraid to.

"I don't want my daughter to be shot."

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail