Cops: Lack of beanbag gun led to shooting

A San Francisco police captain defended the police officers who two weeks ago shot a 56-year-old mentally ill woman in her apartment, explaining that a nonlethal, disabling beanbag gun was requested by the officers but did not arrive in time.

The victim, Teresa Sheehan, was shot by police Aug. 7 after she allegedly threatened a social worker at Sheehan’s home on 15th Street in the Mission Dolores neighborhood. Her family has said she was shot five times, including one shot to the face, one to each shoulder, one to the chest and one to the groin. Sheehan’s family has described her as mildly schizophrenic but not violent, and have accused police of completely mishandling the situation.

But in a memo to officers at the San Francisco Police Department’s Mission Station, Capt. Stephen Tacchini said that the two officers had “acted exactly as they should have” in the situation.

Tacchini described the situation as “nightmarish,” and said that after the officers responded to help the social worker, they “found themselves the targets of a deadly assault by an apparently psychotic person wielding a large knife, quickly moving towards the officers stating they would be killed.”

He said the officers had already requested a beanbag gun, which shoots a fabric bag usually filled with birdshot. But “before the assistance could be provided, the attacker moved forward in a deadly attack,” the memo states.

The officers shot Sheehan with pepper spray, but it did not deter her, he said.

“The space between the officers and the deadly attacker grew dangerously small in a matter of seconds, leaving only deadly force as the final option,” he said.

The police force, which exceeds 2,000 officers, has a total of 170 beanbag guns, said police spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams. Tacchini said they are dispersed by supervisors and carried by some trained officers who work in teams of two. In this case, he said, two individual officers responded to the same call, and neither had a beanbag gun.

In his memo, Tacchini said he’d had people ask him why the officers shot Sheehan rather than leave the apartment or shoot the knife out of her hand.

“In this scenario, if the officers had left, they had no way of knowing if anyone else was in the apartment who would be at risk at the time, as it was inhabited by several roommates,” he said.

He said shooting a knife out of the hand “is great for the movies,” but could result in hitting an innocent person.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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