Supreme Court: Officers who shot mentally ill woman immune

Two San Francisco police officers were given a pass by the Supreme Court on Monday in the 2008 shooting of a schizophrenic woman who refused to be moved from her group home.

The court ruled that officers Kimberly Reynolds and Katherine Holder were not individually liable for shooting Teresa Sheenan up to six times after she threatened them with a knife. The officers were called to Sheenan’s residence in a mentally disabled facility after she threatened a case worker and was to be transferred to another location for psychiatric treatment.

There were two important points in this case the court had initially decided to attempt to answer, but ended up not doing so on either, according to one case analysis.

One of the burning questions that compelled the court to hear the case in the first place asked whether police should be required to take special care in accommodating mentally ill people they’re attempting to take into custody and whether such accommodations should fall under the protection of the Fourth Amendment. The second question dealt with whether those accommodations should fall under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Because the search and seizure claim was not clearly established in the lower courts, the officers were found to be immune from it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t face the ADA claim when the case is passed down to lower federal courts, according to the analysis.

Police confrontations with the mentally ill are typical, said Ron Honberg, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance for Mental Illness, in an interview with The Guardian. Honberg filed a brief supporting Sheehan’s case.

Police have become first responders and often lack the training to deal with those scenarios, Honberg said.

The Guardian reported that national data on police shootings is unreliable and pointed to a 2013 study conducted jointly by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association that found the mentally ill composed at least half of those shot and killed by police.