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May 27, 2015 Practice Points

Responsibilities When Arresting a Mentally Ill Suspect

What do police officers need to take into consideration?

By Stella Kim – May 27, 2015

We have talked, seen, and heard about police brutality so often this past year; it has become almost “normal.” Transparency and social media ensure—or are in the process of ensuring—that police officers take proper steps for their own safety and others’ on calls. Often, mental illness is an aspect that police officers must consider when arresting suspects.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court found for the petitioners in San Francisco v. Sheehan; two San Francisco police officers were entitled to qualified immunity from a lawsuit seeking redress for a mentally disabled woman’s injuries. The woman had threatened to kill her social worker with a butter knife while he attempted to perform a welfare check on her. She had not taken her medication and was reported to the police. When the police arrived, the woman charged at them with a knife. The officers called in for backup. Instead of waiting for backup to arrive, one officer pepper-sprayed her as the other officer shot the woman, resulting in injuries. See San Francisco v. Sheehan, 575 U. S. ____ (2015).

The Court did not address whether police should have taken Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into consideration when arresting Sheehan. Instead, the case was decided based solely on Sheehan’s Fourth Amendment constitutional rights. According to Justice Alito’s opinion, Sheehan’s rights were not violated. Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined by Kagan, arguing that the writ of certiorari should have been dismissed and the case should not have been heard if the question put forth into the court would have been answered. It begs the question as to why the petitioner, City and County of San Francisco, failed to mention the ADA in their oral argument when their opening brief clearly asks for the Court to look upon the ADA issue.

The Ninth Circuit, along with a majority of circuits, has opined that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests. “Ignoring the basis of the case and key questions about the ADA and law enforcement puts into society’s minds that discrimination by public officials and brutality of those who are disabled are a non-issue,” says Amanda O’Neal, special education attorney.

See Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for more information on what accommodations are provided to a qualified individual with a disability seeking to be put in custody by governmental authority.

— Stella Kim, Mission Financial Services, Corona, CA

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