A South Carolina lawsuit involving a mentally ill man who died during a scuffle with police could pay a role in a California-based case that is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last fall, the family of Andrew Torres received a $500,000 settlement from the city of Greenville, bringing an end to a high-profile wrongful death suit alleging that city police officers killed Torres, a 39-year-old paranoid schizophrenic.
The officers zapped Torres with Tasers and pinned him down in his bedroom during a botched attempt to take him to a mental hospital after his family tried to have him committed.
The city had argued that Torres died from an enlarged heart, and did not admit wrongdoing.
But now an attorney for the Torres family, Hank Ehlies of Greenville, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of an unincorporated advocacy organization, Policy Council on Law Enforcement and the Mentally Ill, that draws parallels between the deaths of Torres and a West Coast woman named Terese Sheehan.
Two San Francisco police officers shot and killed Sheehan in her bedroom at a group home for the mentally ill after she threatened a social worker then charged at the officers with a knife after they kicked down her door, according to the city’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A trial judge ruled in favor of the officers, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Now, the city is asking the Supreme Court to determine whether law enforcement officers can be held liable for claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That’s going to be the big one,” Ehlies said. “That’s where I jump in with Torres.”
He asserts that the ADA requires police to provide “reasonable accommodations” to the mentally ill when confronting them during arrests.
“Of all groups with impairments, those with mental illness are among the most vulnerable and in need of ADA protection,” he writes in the amicus brief.
This is an interesting case, one that could have significant ramifications for police and the mentally ill. And it’s one that we’ll be watching. Arguments are slated for March 23.