(CN) – A Florida appeals court found the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office acted appropriately when an officer shot a schizophrenic woman who approached officers with a knife as they tried to take her to a mental health facility.
Richard Furtado called the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office in March 2006 for help taking his wife, Marilou Forrest, to a psychiatric hospital.
He told officers his wife was in a “persistent severe delusional and agitated state,” had a “long history of severe depression,” and had been “walking around the house with knives,” according to a physician’s order as quoted in the ruling Wednesday.
When Furtado led officers into his home, Forrest had barricaded herself in the bathroom. Officers who approached her said she came at them with a knife raised over her head. One deputy says he deployed his Taser, but there was no evidence on record that it shocked her. As Forrest continued to approach, Deputy Jason Law shot her once in the chest.
Richard Furtado sued Deputy Law and Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw for wrongful death and Americans with Disabilities Act violations.
A retired police chief testified at trial that the Sheriff’s Department violated every procedure on how to deal with the mentally ill in the lead-up to the shooting, and had “reckless disregard” for Forrest, the ruling states.
Defense witnesses presented evidence that the Sheriff’s Office held classes about use of force and how to deal with people who are mentally ill or suicidal, and that Deputy Law had attended them.
The trial court found in favor of the police, and determined that the shooting was an isolated incident.
On appeal, a three-judge panel of Florida’s 4th district affirmed, finding that, while the incident was tragic, the deputies had acted in good faith because of the threat to their safety.
“There was no evidence of bad faith, malicious purpose, or a wanton and willful disregard of human rights or safety,” Judge Melanie May wrote for the court.
The judge said the case highlights how difficult it can be for law enforcement to deal with severely mentally ill people.
“In this age of increased awareness of mental health issues, there is still so much to be done to ensure the safety of the public as well as those suffering from mental illness,” Judge May wrote.