Questions Remain After Deadly Shooting By Portland Police In Homeless Shelter
John Elifritz called 911 Saturday afternoon to report that his family was murdered. When Portland, Ore., police officers responded, Elifritz showed suicidal tendencies — holding a knife to his own throat — and eventually fleeing from the officers.
Hours later, Elifritz was dead, shot by police at the Cityteam Ministries Shelter.
More details about the events leading up to Elifritz's death emerged Monday afternoon.
Officers said they had hoped that by not pursuing Elifritz, the situation would not escalate. Instead, they called the Portland Police Bureau's behavioral health unit.
But later in the day, at 4:37 p.m., officers learned Elifritz had stolen a car by force. Calls to 911 continued to come in about Elifritz; one caller said he was engaged in a road rage scenario, tailgating and pointing a black object, believed to be a gun, at him.
Another caller reported that Elifritz jumped out of a moving vehicle and appeared "drunk or high." Later, there was a report of Elifritz holding a knife to someone's throat.
Close to 8 p.m., Elifritz was inside the Cityteam Ministries Portland Shelter, where an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was in progress. A video posted on social media showed the chaos inside the shelter as police entered the building Saturday night.
The video appears to show people trying to flee the shelter and the police officers entering and shooting across the room at Elifritz. Six security cameras could reveal a more complete picture, but the footage is currently being reviewed as part of the investigation.
During the confrontation, a total of eight law enforcement officers fired either live rounds or less lethal rounds designed to incapacitate suspects. Seven of the officers were with Portland Police, and one was a Multnomah County deputy who had been working with PPB's Transit Division. Sgt. Chris Burley declined to say how many officers fired live rounds or how many total rounds were fired.
All of the involved officers have been placed on leave, Burley said. In compliance with rules passed by the Portland City Council last year, all the officers should be interviewed by internal affairs investigators within 48 hours, Burley said.
The police bureau initially pledged to announced the names of the involved officers on Sunday night but then delayed the release, citing "threats made regarding their safety."
"It's my hope we're going to release the names as soon as we can," Burley said.
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw promised transparency as the department investigates Saturday night's fatal shooting.
"Please be reminded that deadly force investigations are extremely complex and take time," Outlaw said in a statement. Remnants of a vigil held for Elifritz — extinguished candles, bouquets of flowers and a large photo of him — remained on the sidewalk outside the shelter on Monday morning.
Friends posted on Elifritz's Facebook wall.
"He did have the biggest heart," wrote Mae Howell. "Was there if you needed him. Big teddy bear. RIP John John."
Another wrote: "You've always been good to me. I don't care what anyone says, you didn't deserve this ... See you on the high ground."
On Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon released a statement from David Rogers, the organization's executive director. Rogers said the shooting marks the fifth fatal shooting by police statewide in 2018.
"In less than a minute, officers shoot and kill the man, while members of an already traumatized population, Portland's homeless community, watch in horror. Was there any attempt to de-escalate the situation before officers open fire inside the homeless shelter full of innocent bystanders? If not, why not?" he said.
The shelter was expected to open Monday evening for the first time since the shooting. Mike Giering, the executive director of Cityteam Portland, said the shelter had to sanitize the property and ensure it was ready for meals and shelter again. No shelter staff were on site Saturday night during the shooting. There were some shelter interns on the scene.
Elifritz had not interacted with the shelter in the past.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said his priority will be to discover the facts and circumstances, and he urged people to reserve judgment.
"Already, there are those who want to immediately define what happened. It would be highly irresponsible for me to participate in speculation at this time. I urge us all to allow investigators to do their work, to uncover the facts and to report on their findings," he said in a statement.
Portland's Resistance has called for a demonstration this week in response to the shooting. It will be holding a rally at 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. The group will use the event to collect coats, tents, menstrual supplies and other donations for those without homes.
Reporter Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.
Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting