The US Supreme Court on Monday is expected to start discussing how police in the country should handle encounters with people who have mental illnesses, an issue that has come to the national attention after a graphic video emerged of police killing a mentally ill man last year.
The Dallas Police Department recently released body-camera footage of an incident in which two officers responded to a call about a bipolar schizophrenic man who was threatening to “chop up” people.
When the officers arrived to the house, the man appeared at the front door holding a screwdriver. Police asked the man to drop the weapon. Instead, the man rushed at the officers, who shot him in the driveway. Watch the video below with caution.
The Supreme Court will consider how police should comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during run-ins with those who have mental disorders.
The ADA requires public officials to make accommodations to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities, but it is not clear how the law instructs police.
The case that has reached the high court stems from a 2008 incident in which San Francisco police answered a call at a group home for people with mental illness. A schizophrenic woman named Teresa Sheehan had threatened a social worker with a knife and shut herself in her room. The social worker called police and informed them of Ms Sheehan’s condition.
When police arrived, they forced themselves into her room and she rushed at the officers, who shot her.
Ms Sheehan survived and filed a lawsuit that claimed the ADA requires officers to consider her mental illness when responding to a call. The lower courts were split on how the ADA applies to police officers in emergency situations.
San Francisco officials argued the ADA does not apply to police officers who respond to a call about an armed suspect who could be violent.
“When mental illness manifests in unpredictable, violent behavior as it did in this case, officers must make split-second decisions that protect the public and themselves from harm,” the city said in legal documents.
The Dallas and San Francisco incidents are far from the only instances of police shooting mentally ill people. Earlier this month, police in Georgia shot and killed a mentally ill US Air Force veteran in Georgia.
A 2013 study by the Treatment Advocacy Centre and the National Sheriff’s Association found that at least half the people killed annually by police are mentally ill, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
A ruling from the Supreme Court likely would set guidelines across the country on how police respond to calls involving the mentally ill.
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