The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief arguing that hundreds of disabled Americans are killed in police encounters every year. It was filed in support of a mentally ill woman suing police for shooting her five times.
In the case of San Francisco v. Sheehan, Teresa Sheehan argued that police shot her five times even though she was experiencing a “psychiatric emergency.” The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday.
Sheehan argued that when police came to her room in a group home in 2008 to take her to a hospital, they violated her Fourth Amendment rights and her rights under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Sheehan’s home aide called police to take her to a hospital for an evaluation after he noticed she had stopped taking her medication, stopped eating and hadn’t changed her clothes in a few days.
During the police encounter, Sheehan threatened officers with a knife. The interaction escalated and police ended up shooting her five times. She survived and consequently sued the city. At issue for the nation’s highest court is whether and how the ADA applies to interactions between police and people with disabilities.
The case comes amid an increasing number of news stories about police officer-involved shootings of people with mental illness, many of whom are people of color. Body camera footage just released showed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill black man in Dallas, Texas, was shot by police after his family called for help and Harrison threatened officers with a screwdriver.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles police killed a homeless black man, Africa, who had told a friend that he had spent ten years in a psychiatric facility. And on January 5, police killed a North Carolina teenager, Keith Vidal, whose family had called for help as he was in a “psychiatric emergency.” He also threatened police with a screwdriver.