High court: Police immune over arrest of mentally ill woman

May 18, 2015, 10:18 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police are immune from a lawsuit arising from the arrest and shooting of a mentally ill woman in San Francisco.

But the justices left undecided the question of whether police must take special precautions when arresting armed and violent people suffering from mental illness.

The case involved a 2008 incident in which two police officers forced their way into Teresa Sheehan’s room at a group home and shot her five times after she came at them with a knife. Sheehan claimed the officers should have used less confrontational tactics because they are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law requires “reasonable accommodations” for people with mental illnesses.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the justices wouldn’t take up the disability rights issue because it hadn’t been fully considered by lower courts.

Qualified immunity protects public officials from being sued for damages unless the official violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the misconduct.

Six justices agreed that the police officers could not be sued in this case. Justices Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan wrote separately to say they would have dismissed the case entirely. Justice Stephen Breyer took no part in the case, as his brother was the federal judge who heard the case.

The case had attracted attention from mental health advocates who said that failing to take account of a suspect’s disability often results in unnecessary shootings by police.

Law enforcement groups also weighed in, saying a ruling in Sheehan’s favor could undermine police tactics, place officers and bystanders at risk and open them to additional liability.

The ADA generally requires public officials to make “reasonable accommodations” to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities. But lower courts have split on how the law should apply to police conduct when public safety is at risk.

The Supreme Court initially took up the case because the city argued that the disability act does not apply when police face armed and dangerous suspects. But then attorneys for the city changed their argument to say that Sheehan was not “qualified” for an accommodation under the law. Alito said it would not be “prudent” to decide a question that hadn’t been fully considered by lower courts.

In Sheehan’s case, her social worker called police for help in restraining her so she could be taken to a hospital for treatment. Officers entered her room with a key, but Sheehan threatened them with a knife, so they closed the door and called for backup. But they said they weren’t sure whether Sheehan had a way to escape, and were concerned that she might have other weapons inside.

The officers then forced their way in and tried to subdue her with pepper spray. But she continued to come toward them with the knife and was shot five times.

A federal district court sided with the police, ruling that it would be unreasonable to ask officers trying to detain a violent, mentally disabled person to comply with the ADA before protecting themselves and others. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should decide whether it was reasonable for the officers to use less confrontational tactics.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Health

Associated Press

Italian surgeon gets his sentence appealed in Sweden case

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday appealed a sentence given to an Italian surgeon who was put on trial for causing bodily harm during experimental stem-cell windpipe transplants on three patients who died. Stem-cell scientist Dr. Paolo Macchiarini made headlines in 2011 for carrying out the world’s first stem-cell windpipe transplants at Sweden’s […]
3 hours ago
South Korean Minister of Food and Drug Safety Oh Yu-Kyoung speaks during a briefing at the ministry...
Associated Press

South Korea approves first homemade COVID-19 vaccine

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Health officials in South Korea on Wednesday approved the country’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 years or older, adding another public health tool in the fight against a prolonged pandemic. In clinical trials involving some 4,000 participants in South Korea and five other countries, SK Bioscience’s two-dose […]
3 hours ago
Rich Morris of Toadflax Nursery helps to plant marijuana seedlings at Homestead Farms and Ranch in ...
Associated Press

New York’s 1st legal marijuana crop sprouts under the sun

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s recreational marijuana market is beginning to sprout, literally, with thin-leafed plants stretching toward the sun in farms around the state. In a novel move, New York gave 203 hemp growers first shot at cultivating marijuana destined for legal sales, which could start by the end of the year. […]
1 day ago
FILE - Abortion-rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Saturday, June 25...
Associated Press

Clinics scramble to divert patients as states ban abortion

They call her, desperate, scared and often broke. Some are rape and domestic violence victims. Others are new mothers, still breastfeeding infants. Another pregnancy so soon, they say, is something they just can’t handle. “Heart wrenching,” said Angela Huntington, an abortion navigator for Planned Parenthood in Missouri, who is helping callers reschedule canceled abortion appointments […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

California budget won’t cover out-of-state abortion travel

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — While Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to make California a sanctuary for women seeking abortions, his administration won’t spend public money to help people from other states travel to California for the procedure. Newsom’s decision, included in a budget agreement reached over the weekend, surprised abortion advocates who have been working […]
1 day ago
Sponsored Content by

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — While Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to make California a sanctuary for women seeking abortions, his administration won’t spend public money to help people from other states travel to California for the procedure. Newsom’s decision, included in a budget agreement reached over the weekend, surprised abortion advocates who have been working […]

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
High court: Police immune over arrest of mentally ill woman