San Diego Woman Fatally Shot by Police Refused to Take Medicine for Mental Illness: Family

Laura's Law was implemented in San Diego in April, 2016

A San Diego woman shot and killed by police officers in Torrance after a pursuit was mentally ill, and refused to take medication, her family told NBC 7.

Michelle Shirley, 39, a UC San Diego alum and graduate from Loyola of Chicago Law School had recently moved to the Los Angeles area. She died on Monday after leading police on an eight-minute chase through Torrance—which ended in shots fired by officers into Shirley’s car.

Her parents, Debra and Ronnie Shirley spoke with NBC 7 on Tuesday. They say their daughter suffered from a bipolar disorder and that they had tried to get her help for years.

But Shirley refused to take her medication.

"I knew she wasn't in her right mind at that time, I knew her bipolar had come back," said her father Ronnie Shirley.

NBC 7 learned that the family was unaware of a California law that could have helped them get treatment for Shirley.

Laura’s Law was implemented in San Diego this April after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors gave the green light last year.

It provides assisted out-patient treatment for those suffering from severe mental illness but refuse help. Laura’s Law impacts individuals who have a history of refusing to accept treatment and who have recent history of psychiatric hospitalizations, incarcerations, or threats or attempts of serious violence toward themselves or others. Those patients would be compelled by court order to receive treatment if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

Shirley may have been a candidate for Laura's Law, but her parents told NBC 7, they have never heard of the law.

NBC 7 spoke with a Mental Health Advocate and former chair of the San Diego Mental Health Advisory Board who fought for years to get Laura's Law implemented in the county.

Theresa Bish said Shirley’s death was unnecessary, and part of the blame needs to go to the mental health system.

"There's going to be a forensics on the shooting itself regarding the police officers. I feel there has to be just as much responsibility and reporting on what went wrong to put Michelle into that situation and to meet her death that way,” she said.

Theresa says she speaks at mental health support groups and law enforcement groups, and it is clear the message about Laura's Law is not getting out there.

"There's no excuse, we have professionals handling this. We can't let them off the hook," she added.

NBC 7 reached out to the San Diego County Behavioral Health Services on Wednesday to find out what they're doing to inform people about Laura's Law but haven't heard back yet.

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