Portland, OR — Last month, the Free Thought Project reported on a disturbing video showing more than a dozen heavily armed Portland cops corner, and then execute a father inside a homeless shelter. Now, a month later, all the officers involved in the shooting have been deemed justified in their use of lethal force.
The victim, John Elifritz, was gunned down by cops over 10 feet away from him as he posed a threat to no one.
"The grand jury determined that the use of deadly force was a lawful exercise of self-defense under Oregon law," the media statement released by the Portland Police Bureau reads. However, the family, and witnesses, disagree.
According to police, officers were responding to a report of a crash last month and learned that one of the vehicles in the crash was stolen the night before.
Police claim Elifritz, a 48-year-old shipyard worker and father of a 12-year-old daughter, was believed to be the driver of the car who had fled inside the nearby Cityteam Ministries Portland Shelter in southeast Portland. Police claim they were given reports that the man may be armed, however, he only had a small knife and was using it only on himself, according to multiple witnesses.
In the video, we see the people who were in the shelter conducting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting begin to flee the scene as the police show up. They clearly appear to be reacting to some threat. Whether that threat was the alleged carjacker or police remains the subject of a debate as different witnesses accounts tell different stories.
According to the man who took the video, Elifritz had rushed into the shelter shirtless during their meeting, waving a knife and cutting himself. "It was horrific," the man who took the video told The Oregonian. "We were all scared for our lives."
However, another eye-witness said that police were saying, "If he wants to die, let him die," just before killing him. The witness also said that Elifritz was in the shelter for a while before police arrived and he threatened no one before he began stabbing himself in the neck.
The "knife" as described by the witness, was a box cutter.
According to posts on social media, the 48-year-old dockworker had been suffering from a mental health crisis over the past week.
"John hadnt been himself for like the last week," a family friend wrote.
Another friend of Elifritz posted on his Facebook page, saying: "My friend John, was also in crisis when, he was profiled and murdered."
"He was stabbing himself with his knife. How could he have lunged at police?'' David Elifritz, the victim's older brother asked. "You see the video and you think cops are supposed to be trained to handle this. There's quite a space between him and the officers.''
Not only was there a vast space between a man who was "armed" with a box cutter—who was only cutting himself—and 13 cops with AR-15s and a K9, but their was also a wall. Also, Elifritz was hurting himself only and had not hurt anyone else.
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For cops to shift to deadly force so quickly seemed entirely unnecessary. As the video appears to show, at least one officer did attempt less than lethal force, using beanbag rounds. However, live rounds immediately followed.
“As officers contacted the adult male suspect, shots were fired,” police said in a press release. “Officers immediately requested emergency medical personnel respond to the scene.”
Sadly, however, Elifritz, who was in the midst of a mental crisis and who needed medical help, did not survive the multiple gunshot wounds and he died at the scene.
“The Portland Police Bureau values human life and accepts the authority to use lethal force with great reverence,” Outlaw said. “The Police Bureau is committed to transparency and will ensure the entire investigation is released in a timely manner that does not impact the integrity of the investigation.”
According to the Portland Mercury, all officers involved in the shooting—many of which have a history of using excessive force against members of the public—are expected to return to their jobs shortly, according to PPB.
In spite of all the officers returning to work, the PPB is still conducting an internal review of the shooting which will be presented to the Police Review Board.
Since the shooting, Elifritz's family has retained an attorney and is planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
Elifritz lawyer Andrew M. Stroth wrote in a statement to the Portland Mercury that the District Attorney's office "failed the citizens of Portland."
"Consistent with the history and use of excessive force documented by the U.S. Department of Justice, John Elifritz was unjustifiably and unconstitutionally shot and killed by officers from the PPD," Stroth wrote. "A 12 -year-old girl no longer has her father because of the unwarranted actions of these officers. The family will continue to pursue justice in spite of this decision by the District Attorney.”
Elifritz was a husband and a father. And now, his young daughter and wife will live on knowing that police chose to kill him instead of bravely waiting it out or attempting to disarm him. A tragedy indeed.
Below are the two disturbing videos.
Before the shooting: