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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

SF Settles Police Shooting Case for $1 Million

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco will pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit from a woman its police officers shot in the head in her own apartment 8 years ago, closing a case that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer approved the settlement with Teresa Sheehan and appointed a guardian ad litem for her in a redacted settlement order filed Wednesday. Police officers shot Sheehan seven times after she brandished a knife at a social worker, who then called for help.

Officers Kimberly Reynolds and Katherine Holder shot Sheehan in her apartment at Conrad House, a group home for the mentally ill, in August 2008. Sheehan had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. She survived and was charged with assault.

Her trial resulted in a hung jury and a partial acquittal, after which she sued the City and County of San Francisco, the officers and their supervisors.

At a hearing one week ago, on Oct. 14, Breyer appointed Frances Sheehan, Teresa's younger sister, as her guardian ad litem, citing her 8-year power of attorney over Teresa's legal and medical affairs.

Teresa Sheehan, sitting in the courtroom with her family, interrupted the proceedings, telling Breyer she did not want her sister or anyone else appointed as her guardian.

"I told the person on the phone I was not willing to undergo that appointment and I'm not willing at this time," Teresa Sheehan told Breyer. "They're trying to go over my head and I'm not willing to let that happen. She has not been my guardian, she has not been around me. She has not been in charge of me, your honor."

Frances Sheehan told Breyer it was crucial that he appoint her as guardian.

"I want to pursue issues in conjunction [with Teresa], together in dialogue," she said. "At this present time, I do not have that and I would like to have Teresa give input."

Frances Sheehan said in an Oct. 7 motion that the parties had been fighting over who should be appointed Teresa's guardian as recently as the previous week.

Teresa Sheehan's attorneys had petitioned Breyer to appoint a licensed professional fiduciary as Teresa's guardian.

Frances Sheehan claimed in a motion in opposition that they did so to get a proposed settlement approved, and their share of the proceeds, after she rejected an agreement in August. She said she rejected the settlement because Teresa wanted the case to go to trial.

Frances Sheehan said Teresa's attorneys never told Teresa they planned to have a fiduciary appointed as her guardian, and indicated she would accept the settlement only if Breyer rejected the appointment. She requested he appoint her as guardian instead.

On Friday, San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith told Breyer the parties had finally agreed to appoint Frances Sheehan as guardian. After listening to Teresa Sheehan's objection, Breyer told her he saw an "absolutely demonstrated need for a guardian ad litem."

"The issue for the court is not whether to appoint your sister as guardian in all matters; it is an attempt to see in this part of the litigation, which has gone on for years and which cries out for a resolution, that your interests may be protected," Breyer said.

"And with that in mind, the court would appoint your sister as guardian ad litem as it relates to this part of the lawsuit and this part of the lawsuit only. So any other matters you have not related to the lawsuit would of course be yours to exercise."

Attorney Keith said San Francisco has agreed not to go after the Sheehans for hospital fees stemming from Teresa Sheehan's hospitalization, a condition upon which the family insisted.

Sheehan will get $507,245 after fees and costs, $250,000 to be disbursed through a structured settlement, and $257,245 to be placed in a special needs trust, according to the settlement order.

Breyer subtracted $77,735 for costs of litigation, and awarded Sheehan's attorneys $415,019 in fees. "That is an appropriate fee given the very hard work under great obstacles that were overcome by plaintiffs' counsel in achieving what I think is a just result and one clearly, clearly in plaintiffs' best interests," Breyer said.

In presiding over Sheehan's lawsuit, Breyer ruled for the defendants on all counts. But in 2014, the Ninth Circuit revived Sheehan's claims of civil rights and Americans with Disabilities Act violations and excessive force.

After accepting San Francisco's appeal, the Supreme Court partially reversed, granting the two responding officers qualified immunity.

The Ninth Circuit remanded to the district court two months later, finding that Breyer had properly granted summary judgment to the defendants on Sheehan's Fourth Amendment claims but not on her Americans with Disabilities Act and state law claims.

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