The Supreme Court today granted “qualified immunity” to two San Francisco police officers who entered the room of a mentally ill woman and shot her when she threatened them with a kitchen knife. The incident occurred in 2008 in a group home for the mentally ill. Teresa Sheehan contended that her constitutional rights were violated when the officers came into her room. Although the court’s majority ruled in the officers’ favor, the decision did not establish standards for police dealing with the mentally ill. A 2013 study estimated that at least half of all people shot and killed by U.S. police have mental health problems.
Writing for six Justices, Justice Samuel Alito said, quoting an earlier high court decision, ruled for the police officers on the ground that they had no “fair and clear warning of what the Constitution requires” in such cases. The decision overturned a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Justices Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan dissented, saying the court shouldn’t have taken up the case at all because Sheenan’s attorneys didn’t pursue the issue of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.