Police Shoot Mentally Ill Woman in the Head in Her Apartment

Helen Christophi | Courthouse News Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Eight years after police officers shot a schizophrenic woman in the head inside her apartment, San Francisco has agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount, closing a contentious case that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on Friday approved the settlement with Teresa Sheehan, whom officers shot seven times after she brandished a knife a social worker, who then called for help.

The settlement figure is confidential.

San Francisco police Officers Kimberly Reynolds and Katherine Holder shot Sheehan in her apartment at Conrad House, a group home for the mentally ill, after she threatened a social worker with a knife in August 2008.

Sheehan survived and was charged with assault. Her trial resulted in a hung jury and a partial acquittal, after which she sued the City and County of San Francisco, the officers and their supervisors.

At the Friday hearing, Breyer appointed Frances Sheehan, Teresa’s younger sister, as her guardian ad litem, citing her eight-year power of attorney over Teresa’s legal and medical affairs.

Teresa Sheehan, sitting in the courtroom with her family, interrupted the proceedings, telling Breyer she did not want her sister or anyone else appointed as her guardian.

“I told the person on the phone I was not willing to undergo that appointment and I’m not willing at this time,” Teresa Sheehan told Breyer. “They’re trying to go over my head and I’m not willing to let that happen.

“She has not been my guardian, she has not been around me. She has not been in charge of me, your honor.”

Frances Sheehan told Breyer it is crucial that he appoint her as guardian.

“I want to pursue issues in conjunction [with Teresa], together in dialogue,” she said. “At this present time, I do not have that and I would like to have Teresa give input.”

Frances Sheehan said in an Oct. 7 motion that the parties had been fighting over who should be appointed Teresa’s guardian as recently as last week.

Teresa Sheehan’s attorneys had petitioned Breyer to appoint a licensed professional fiduciary as Teresa’s guardian.

Frances Sheehan claimed in a motion in opposition that they did so to get a proposed settlement approved, and their share of the proceeds, after she rejected an agreement in August. She said she rejected the settlement because Teresa wanted the case to go to trial.

Frances Sheehan said Teresa’s attorneys never told Teresa they planned to have a fiduciary appointed as her guardian, and indicated she would accept the settlement only if Breyer rejected the appointment. She requested he appoint her as guardian instead.

On Friday, San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith told Breyer the parties had finally agreed to appoint Frances Sheehan as guardian. And while Breyer listened intently to Teresa Sheehan’s objection, he told her there is an “absolutely demonstrated need for a guardian ad litem.”

“The issue for the court is not whether to appoint your sister as guardian in all matters, it is an attempt to see in this part of the litigation, which has gone on for years and which cries out for a resolution, that your interests may be protected,” Breyer told Teresa.

“And with that in mind, the court would appoint your sister as guardian ad litem as it relates to this part of the lawsuit and this part of the lawsuit only. So any other matters you have not related to the lawsuit would of course be yours to exercise,” he said.

Attorney Keith said San Francisco has agreed not to go after the Sheehans for hospital fees stemming from Teresa Sheehan’s hospitalization after the shooting, a condition the family had insisted be a part of any settlement.

Breyer modified the settlement, subtracting $77,735 in costs. He said the costs are to be paid in full, and reduced the net settlement by that amount.


He awarded plaintiffs’ counsel 45 percent of the settlement proceeds.

“That is an appropriate fee given the very hard work under great obstacles that were overcome by plaintiffs’ counsel in achieving what I think is a just result and one clearly, clearly in plaintiffs’ best interests,” Breyer said.

In presiding over Sheehan’s lawsuit, Breyer ruled for the defendants on all counts. But in 2014, the Ninth Circuit revived Sheehan’s civil rights and excessive force claims, as well as her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After taking up San Francisco’s appeal the following year, the U.S. Supreme Court partially reversed, granting the two responding officers qualified immunity.

The Ninth Circuit remanded to the district court two months later, finding that Breyer had properly granted summary judgment to the defendants on Sheehan’s Fourth Amendment claims but not on her Americans with Disabilities Act and state law claims.

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