SF police shooting case heads to Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday¬†to take up the city of San Francisco’s appeal of a case that concerns how police must treat mentally disabled suspects who are threatening violence.

The case centers on a confrontation in which two San Francisco officers shot and wounded a mentally disabled woman, Teresa Sheehan, in a group home in the Mission District of the city on Aug. 7, 2008, after she pointed a large knife at them and threatened to kill them.

The officers had been summoned by a social worker, who said Sheehan had threatened to kill him with a knife. The social worker asked the officers to transport Sheehan to a hospital for 72 hours of detention and evaluation.

Sheehan, then 56, had a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. The officers said that after they pepper-sprayed Sheehan, she continued advancing with the knife.

Sheehan was shot five or six times in the face, hip, chest and arm, but survived. In 2009, she filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city in federal court.

Among other claims, she contended the officers violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide reasonable accommodations for her disability through measures such as trying to defuse the situation and waiting for backup.

A trial judge, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco, dismissed the lawsuit, but in February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it. The appeals court said the disabilities law applies to arrests and that a jury should decide whether the two officers made reasonable accommodations for Sheehan’s disability under the circumstances.

The City then appealed and the high court today agreed to hear the appeal. A hearing is expected to be held sometime in the spring and the court’s decision is anticipated by the end of June.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement:

“Police officers deserve clarity concerning their obligations under federal law, and public safety demands it. … We hope the high court reverses the 9th Circuit’s mistaken decision, and restores reasonableness to this area of the law.”

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who is the brother of Charles Breyer, has recused himself from participating in the case.