Landmark case on police use of force and mental illness settles for $1 million after PWRFL defends Ninth Circuit ruling.

San Francisco agreed to pay $1 million to settle a case in which two police officers shot a mentally ill woman named Teresa Sheehan.  PWRFL represented Sheehan in the United States Supreme Court.

The case stems from an incident in August 2008 when two San Francisco police officers arrived at Teresa Sheehan’s residence to assist a social worker in transporting her to a hospital for treatment. Sheehan was unwilling to leave her room. Rather than waiting for non-lethal backup to arrive or utilizing de-escalation techniques for confrontations with mentally ill individuals, the officers forced their way into Sheehan’s room, pepper sprayed her and shot her multiple times, including once while Sheehan was on the floor. Sheehan survived but sustained permanent physical injuries.

On behalf of Sheehan, Leonard Feldman of Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp argued in the Supreme Court that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates police conduct when officers confront individuals like Sheehan who are mentally ill.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled that Sheehan should have the opportunity to present her case to a jury that the officers’ actions violated her rights under the ADA as a person with disabilities. The Supreme Court rejected San Francisco’s attempt to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s opinion and criticized San Francisco for presenting a “different argument” in its merits briefing from the argument it pressed in the Ninth Circuit. In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia agreed with portions of the Court’s ruling, stating that the Court should “not reward such bait-and-switch tactics.” As a result, Sheehan’s ADA claim was sent back to the trial court as the Ninth Circuit previously ruled. 

After the case was sent back to the trial court, the parties engaged in settlement discussions and the matter eventually settled for $1 million. PWRFL is proud of the work it did in this landmark case. Mentally ill individuals confronted by police are entitled to the substantial protections of the ADA, and the Supreme Court’s decision allows individuals like Sheehan to pursue claims against public entities when their officers ignore the statute’s anti-discriminatory provisions.

Sheehan drew amicus support from numerous disability rights and mental health groups, civil rights organizations, and police accountability projects. The case was featured in stories by the Associated Press, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Slate Magazine, The Guardian, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, KQED, Aljazeera America and the ACLU.

A link to the Court’s full decision is available here, and additional information news coverage regarding the case and eventual settlement can be found here.