In the Supreme Court
City and County of San Francisco, Petitioners v. Sheehan, Respondent
February 17, 2015
American Psychiatric Association
American Psychological Association
Delaware, Illinois, New Mexico, Ohio, and Vermont Psychological Associations
National Council on Disability
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
As Amici Curiae in support of the respondent
SUMMARY OF CASE
Teresa Sheehan is an individual with schizoaffective disorder who experienced acute symptoms of her disability while living at a group home for persons with mental illness. As a result of her symptoms, a social worker called the police to transport Ms. Sheehan to a specialized mental health facility for a 72-hour involuntary commitment for evaluation. When the police entered Ms. Sheehan’s room, she brandished a knife and exhibited threatening behavior towards them, indicating she did not wish to go to a mental health facility. They subsequently withdrew from the room and regrouped. Although they had called for back-up and could have availed themselves of a specialized “Crisis Intervention Team” that was operational in San Francisco at the time, the same two officers decided to re-enter Ms. Sheehan’s living space with the intention of subduing Ms. Sheehan and taking her into custody for transportation to the mental health facility. Ms. Sheehan again threatened the officers with a knife and they subsequently shot her five or six times. Ms. Sheehan survived and filed suit against the City and County, arguing that her rights under the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been violated.
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
Although there is general agreement that the ADA does apply to officers making an arrest, the issue here is whether the officers were required to take steps to de-escalate the situation as an accommodation in light of Ms. Sheehan’s disability or whether that places an undue hardship on the officers in light of their responsibility to maintain their personal safety and that of the public. The National Council on Disability has joined with several advocacy groups for people with disabilities to argue that in circumstances such as in this case, the police do have an obligation to accommodate the psychiatric disabilities of individuals being taken into custody for psychiatric evaluation, including employing known methods of de-escalating potentially dangerous situations to avoid harm to the individual, officers, and the public.