U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer approved a $1 million settlement Friday in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and set a precedent for the rights of mentally ill people during contacts with police.
The case stems from a 2008 officer-involved shooting. San Francisco police Sgt. Kimberly Reynolds and Officer Katherine Holder responded to Teresa Sheehan's apartment after she allegedly threatened a social worker with a knife. She was living in a supportive housing building, but her condition had been slipping. She was apparently off her medication for schizoaffective disorder and wanted to be left alone.
When the officers forced their way into her room, Sheehan came at them with a serrated bread knife and was pepper-sprayed, shot in head, torso, arms and pelvis. She survived, and after successfully fending off a criminal charges for threatening the social worker and assaulting the police, her civil case began.
Breyer initially dismissed Sheehan's claims that the officers used excessive force and violated Fourth Amendment protections. But civil rights attorneys John Burris and Ben Nisenbaum appealed, and in 2014 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to police encounters with mentally ill suspects.
"It really says to police departments, if you have an opportunity to make reasonable accommodations, you must do it," Burris said after the settlement was approved. "Don’t force a confrontation. Don’t yell and scream at them, and if possible make accommodations so that another person can come in."