The United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today for a case involving a mentally ill woman shot by San Francisco Police officers in 2008. The woman, Teresa Sheehan — who survived the encounter — suffers from schizophrenia. The groundbreaking case, known as City and County of San Francisco et al. v. Teresa Sheehan
, raises issues of how police should be expected to confront a person whom they know has a mental disability.
The shooting occurred on the night of August 7, 2008, when two SFPD officers, Kimberly Reynolds and Katherine Holder, entered Sheehan's apartment to detain her for an emergency psychiatric evaluation at the request of her social worker. When a mentally ill Sheehan threatened the officers with a knife, they responded by shooting her five or six times. Though Sheehan suffered severe hip and head injuries, she survived and sued the officers for violating her 4th Amendment rights against excessive force and for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Though the District Court first dismissed her case, she proceeded to win a series of appeals that has finally landed her, seven years later, at America's highest seat of justice.
Oakland Civil Rights Attorney John Burris, who is representing Sheehan, thinks that the case has important ramifications for law enforcement and for disabled communities across the US. “This is potentially a landmark case defining the protections that the mentally impaired can or should expect with confronted by the police." Burriss said in a press release. “The police should not have created a confrontation with a mentally disabled person particularly when they are aware of her disability."
The American Civil Liberties Union has said that the officers are ultimately to blame for failing to de-escalate the situation. Sound familiar? In this respect, Sheehan's story echoes those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jason Harrison, and many others. Given the past year of nationwide outrage at police brutality, the progression of Teresa Sheehan's case will be worth watching.