Supreme Court Refuses To Rule On Whether Police Should Take Mental Illness Into Account
In a recent case, the supreme court sided with two San Francisco Police officers (PDF) who responded to a call for help from a social worker.
The social worker was acting as the defendant, Teresa Sheehan’s caretaker at her group home/health facility. Sheehan was a diagnosed schizophrenic and was known to break from reality, which is why she was being treated by a social worker.
She had stopped taking her medication, and the social worker described her condition as becoming “gravely disabled” and called police to transport her for involuntary commitment.
Police broke into her room and shot her several times after they claim she threatened them with a knife.
She miraculously survived.
Family members called for reform of how the police deal with the mentally ill, saying that if they had just called a family member or a mental health professional, the situation could have easily been diffused.
Seeing that about half of police shooting victims are mentally ill, that is a very reasonable position to have.
Police are not trained mental health professionals, and anybody who has ever had to deal with somebody with a mental illness could tell you that they are immune to reason, or even intimidation such as the cops rely on.
Meeting them with force is a recipe for disaster.
In fact, health professionals are under very strict guidelines to not use any force with the patients whatsoever, even if they are being attacked.
Lawyers for Sheehand argued that the polie “failed to reasonably accommodate her disability when they forced their way back into her room without taking her mental illness into account and without employing tactics that would have been likely to resolve the situation without injury to her or others.”
The police, of course, just used the magical phrase that they were afraid for their lives, and in a 6-2 vote the supreme court sided with them.
Justice Alto remarked, in typical fashion “Considering the specific situation confronting (the officers), they had sufficient reason to believe that their conduct was justified ”, completely draining the situation of any and all context.
The main question in this case though wasn’t just about the events in question, but if the Americans With Disabilities Act protected the disabled, particularly the mentally disabled, from what would otherwise be standard protocol for the police.
Should their illness be taken into account when dealing with them? The justices refused to rule on this question, and in effect made it so that police can continue as they do now, and not have to treat mentally disabled people as any different from a fully functional, conscious and aware adult.
Watch the video below to see cops using deadly force on a man suffering from mental illness.