Evaluating Rights of the Disabled

2015-0414 Supreme Court Building

Except of an Article by Tami Abdollah and Sam Hananel | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The police shooting in Georgia of a naked, unarmed man with bipolar disorder spotlights the growing number of violent confrontations between police and the mentally ill — an issue that goes before the Supreme Court.

At least half the people police killed each year have mental health problems, according to a 2013 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association. The nation’s highest court will consider how police must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act when dealing with armed or violent people who have psychiatric problems or other disabilities.

The case involves a 2008 incident in San Francisco in which police responded to a call from a group home for the mentally ill. A resident who suffers from schizophrenia, Teresa Sheehan, threatened to kill her social worker with a knife and locked herself in her room. The social worker asked the police to help restrain Sheehan and get her to a hospital where she could be treated.

The incident ended with officers forcing their way into Sheehan’s room and shooting after she charged them with the knife. She survived and filed a lawsuit, claiming police had a duty under the ADA to consider her mental illness and take more steps to avoid a violent confrontation.


Deputy City Attorney Christine Van Aken told the court, “If the individual presents a significant threat, then no accommodation is required. Even if an armed suspect ignored an officer’s command to put his hands up because he was deaf, and the officer knew that, she said, the officer would nevertheless be entitled to shoot the suspect if necessary to protect public safety.”

U.S. Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to give police some leeway in dealing with mentally ill, potentially violent suspects.

A ruling is due by the end of June 2015. The case is San Francisco vs. Sheehan, 13-1412.


Thanks to Tami Abdollah and Sam Hananel for writing the article; Associated Press for committing its resources to publishing the article; U.S. News & World Report for featuring the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.



  1. Scott,
    Of course the change was positive! I remember receiving you business card, and being utterly moved. I miss seeing you on the bus, you could always change my mood for the better!

  2. As someone who is in the middle level of Parkinson’s, this article put me at unease! My future is laden with scenarios I may not be able to grasp or understand. I can only hope if I ever have an “encounter” that it will be understood that something is wrong with me. (I think the contest is a wonderful idea! We had several encounters on ACCESS. The prize I would like, would be a luncheon in the park! You really have changed my life!)

    1. William, I understand your concerns. I am in a similar situation. While I don’t have Parkinson’s, I had a significant amount of radiation treatment to fight the cancer that was destroying my brain 12 years ago. Although I won the battle against cancer, I am now dealing with a battle against the effects of full-brain and spine radiation. I, too, hope that if I have an encounter, people will understand there is something wrong with me.

      Thank you for the positive feedback about the comment challenge. I am still working on some of the “rules” and prizes so it is a positive and worthwhile experience for participants. If you win, remind me about your request

      When you say I really changed your life, I hope you mean in a positive way rather than a detrimental way. Reading that I made a difference in your life, assuming the difference is positive, is more meaningful to me than all possible material possessions combined. Thank you for sharing the good news.

  3. Ethan Saylor’s “significant threat” was an extra 21st chromosome.
    Kelly Thomas’ “significant threat” was schizophrenia.
    In no way did those and too many other “threats” justify an ad hoc death sentence.
    What they DO justify is higher minimum standards for law enforcement recruits, more emphasis on psychological experience and less on military experience, ongoing LEO training, some kind of external review process for any questionable officer shooting,..the list of what needs to happen is long, growing and in my opinion urgent.

    1. Howard, thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. I agree that there is an urgent need to clarify and enforce the standards of what is “reasonable.” I also agree that police officers must have the right to protect themselves. Shooting an armed person with a mental or hearing disability is still an armed person to me. However, an unarmed person who is non-compliant (because he/she does not understand or hear the order) is a completely different story.

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