PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — David Abbs was sitting in his wheelchair inside a Portland, Oregon, homeless shelter when a shirtless man burst in, grabbed a jacket from a donation bin and dashed outside.
The man ran back in and tried to cut himself with a knife on the neck and wrist before officers fired bean bag rounds at him, Abbs recalled Monday. Moments later, police shot John Elifritz dead near the shelter’s kitchen as stunned witnesses looked on.
Cellphone video shot by a bystander and posted on social media shows people scrambling and swearing as Elifritz roamed through the shelter he had no known connection to and officers stormed in Saturday night. Police say the man with a long criminal history carjacked a vehicle that he crashed outside the facility.
The video led the American Civil Liberties Union and Elifritz’s brother to question whether police moved too quickly to use deadly force before trying to de-escalate the situation.
“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,” David Rogers, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said in a statement.
Portland is among the West Coast cities struggling to cope with a rising tide of homelessness, and its police agency has been criticized for fatal shootings and other deaths at the hands of officers. A 2012 government investigation found that officers engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people who are mentally ill.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the public to withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.
“Already, there are those who want to immediately define what happened,” Wheeler said. “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.”
Abbs, who is homeless and can be seen in the cellphone video sitting by the shelter door, said two officers entered and fired bean bag rounds that knocked the man down. Elifritz got up and at least 10 more officers rushed into the room with a police dog.
The video shows Elifritz across the room from officers and partially obscured from view by a low wall. He appears to hesitate as witnesses scatter and then stumbles forward and falls to the ground a split second after multiple shots ring out.
Abbs did not see the shooting because he uses a wheelchair and the officers blocked his view, but he said he heard eight gunshots.
David Elifritz told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he wonders why police didn’t use a stun gun on his 48-year-old brother.
“You see the video and you think cops are supposed to be trained to handle this,” David Elifritz said. “There’s quite a space between him and the officers.”
The police had contact with John Elifritz earlier Saturday after responding to a call about a possibly suicidal man but did not engage with him, the newspaper reported.
David Elifritz says his parents adopted John Elifritz and John’s brother as kids, initially taking them in as foster children. The boys’ biological mother died in a car crash and their biological father went in and out of their lives, David Elifritz said.
He told the newspaper that he last saw his brother a week ago and that John Elifritz didn’t share much about his life but seemed to be doing all right.
Court records show John Elifritz had a criminal history dating to his teenage years, with car theft a frequent offense in his 20s. His most recent conviction was in 2013, when he pleaded guilty to reckless driving and attempting to elude a police officer.