Lawsuit against San Francisco police in shooting of mentally ill woman faces dismissal 

A federal judge on Friday questioned the contention that two San Francisco police officers acted wrongly when they entered the room of a mentally ill woman and shot her in 2008, and he is expected to dismiss a lawsuit against the officers.

The case dates to August 2008, when a social worker called police because 56-year-old Teresa Sheehan had threatened to kill him. According to the lawsuit, officers Kimberly Reynolds and Katherine Holder responded to the call and entered her room in a group home in the Mission Dolores neighborhood. Sheehan then yelled at the officers to leave and threatened them with a knife. Police said they tried to subdue her with pepper spray, then she lunged at them with a knife. The officers shot her five times in the chest, arm and left temple, according to the lawsuit. Sheehan survived.

After the incident, the District Attorney’s Office filed five charges against Sheehan. The jury in the case later acquitted her on a charge of making criminal threats against the officers, but hung on four assault charges. Prosecutors declined to retry the case.

After the charges were dropped, Sheehan and her family filed a lawsuit in federal court against The City and the officers. Sheehan’s attorney alleged the officers violated her constitutional rights by unlawfully entering her room and using excessive force.

In a hearing over The City’s motion to dismiss the case Friday, Judge Charles Breyer repeatedly questioned Sheehan’s attorney, Ben Nisenbaum, over his contention the officers had acted wrongly. When Nisenbaum said it was inappropriate for the officers to enter her room with their guns drawn rather than wait for backup, Breyer argued that was a perfectly appropriate decision to make because she could have been a danger to herself.

When Nisenbaum noted she had no history of suicide attempts or violence, Breyer said simply her being “mentally deranged” was an indication that she could be in danger of hurting herself.

“The fact that she is disabled suggests that she is not going to act in a rational way,” Breyer said. “She was a sick person.”

Breyer has yet to officially issue his final ruling, but Nisenbaum said he expects the judge will dismiss the case after Friday’s hearing.

He said he intends to appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Attorneys for The City declined to comment on the case.

In recent months, police have come under scrutiny after two new instances of shootings involving mentally disabled people. Those cases came after the Police Department ended an extensive officer training program on dealing with the mentally ill.

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Katie Worth

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