The case of Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco arose after San Francisco police officers shot a mentally ill woman who was barricaded in her room in a group home. The police initially entered her room without a warrant after they were told she was not taking her medication and needed help. But Ms. Sheehan did not want help and she brandished a knife at the officers.
The police left her room and went into the hallway. But then, instead of waiting for backup or taking other non-confrontational measures to diffuse the situation (which experts agree can be effective and should be utilized by police officers), the officers barged back into Ms. Sheehan's room. As expected, Ms. Sheehan again threatened the officers with the knife and so they shot her multiple times.
Ms. Sheehan survived her shooting and sued the officers who shot her. In her lawsuit, she argues that her rights as a disabled person suffering from mental illness protect her from this type of police brutality. She argues -- and the Ninth Circuit agrees -- that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to arrests and that in her case there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the officers reasonably accommodated her mental illness under the Americans With Disabilities Act when they barged back into her room the second time and shot her instead of using other methods to peaceably resolve the situation.
But not all courts across the country agree with the Ninth Circuit on this ADA issue in the area of police brutality and mental illness and so the Supreme Court will decide the issue. Hopefully, for the sake of the safety and security of the mentally ill in California and across the country, the Supreme Court will adopt the sound reasoning of the Ninth Circuit and clarify that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to arrests in the context presented by Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco.
Given the extent of the problem of people with mental illness being brutalized by police officers -- and the extreme consequences that can result (death) -- the law should encourage rather than discourage reasonable, responsible and potentially life-saving interactions between the police and those suffering from mental illness.