Mercury News - September 11, 2019

“If (Harris) actually looked at it and said, ‘This is a righteous case, I want to go after a mentally ill woman who was shot,’ then you question that decision. If she didn’t know about it, then you question her management skills.”

When San Francisco police broke down a door inside a group home for mentally disabled people in 2008 and shot a 56-year-old resident, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris didn’t charge the officers with a crime. Instead she prosecuted the schizophrenic woman who was severely injured in the shooting.

Harris charged Teresa Sheehan with assaulting the officers, alleging she came at them with a kitchen knife after they forced their way into her room. But the jury was not convinced. It deadlocked in favor of acquitting Sheehan on the assault charges, and found her not guilty of threatening to kill a social worker who had called the police for help to get Sheehan into a psychiatric hospital.

“Somebody used very poor judgement in deciding to bring these charges,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“If (Harris) actually looked at it and said, ‘This is a righteous case, I want to go after a mentally ill woman who was shot,’ then you question that decision. If she didn’t know about it, then you question her management skills.”

Today Harris, California’s junior U.S. senator, is trying to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by highlighting her experience as a “progressive prosecutor.” The Sheehan case, though, is an example of her complicated record in criminal justice.

Harris did not re-try the case after the jury deadlocked, and Sheehan went on to sue the police for excessive force. After a legal battle that lasted several years and included arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, Sheehan won a $1 million settlement. Her civil suit also resulted in a landmark appellate court ruling that says police must take more care when interacting with people they know have a mental illness. ...
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