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The police shooting in Georgia earlier this month of a naked, unarmed man with bipolar disorder spotlights the growing number of violent confrontations between police and the mentally ill — an issue that goes before the Supreme Court this coming week.

At least half the people police kill each year have mental health problems, according to a 2013 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs' Association. On Monday, the nation's highest court will consider how police must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act when dealing with armed or violent people who have psychiatric problems or other disabilities.

The case involves a 2008 incident in San Francisco in which police responded to a call from a group home for the mentally ill. A resident who suffers from schizophrenia, Teresa Sheehan, threatened to kill her social worker with a knife and locked herself in her room. The social worker asked the police to help restrain Sheehan and get her to a hospital where she could be treated.

The incident ended with officers forcing their way into Sheehan's room and shooting after she charged them with the knife. She survived and filed a lawsuit, claiming police had a duty under the ADA to consider her mental illness and take more steps to avoid a violent confrontation.

The ADA generally requires public officials to make "reasonable accommodations" to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities. But lower courts have split on how the law should apply to police conduct when public safety is at risk.


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