The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear San Francisco vs. Sheehan, 13-1412, a case that could set precedents for police treatment of the disabled and mentally disabled.
According to the AP, in 2008 Teresea Sheehan who suffers from schizophrenia was shot by police in her group home in the Mission. When Sheehan threatened a social worker with a knife, he called 911 and two cops entered Sheehan's room. She threatened them as well, so they left and called for backup. Then, shortly before it arrived, the officers broke down her door, and, unable to subdue her with pepper spray, fired on her 5 or 6 times. Sheehan, who survived, needed two hip-replacement operations as a result.
Though prosecutors charged her with assault, a jury deadlocked and charges were dropped. Sheehan filed a damage suit that a federal judge originally dismissed, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in February that a jury should decide the case, centering on the question of whether the officers should have waited for backup.
At issue is how the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires that government agencies make reasonable accommodations for the disabled might pertain to police conduct toward a mentally disabled person like Sheehan.
“Police officers deserve clarity concerning their obligations under federal law, and public safety demands it,” says City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office represents the police officers. As he told the Chronicle, “We hope the high court reverses the Ninth Circuit’s mistaken decision and restores reasonableness to this area of the law.”
Appealing to the Supreme Court, San Francisco argued that the federal disability law does not require police to consider the mental health needs of “armed and violent suspects who are disabled.”
Justice Stephen Breyer’s brother, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, was the judge who dismissed Sheehan’s suit and so Stephen Breyer will not hear the case, leaving only eight Supreme Court justices present. A ruling will be due in June.