Questions Abound After Portland Cops Kill Man Inside Homeless Shelter

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Several witnesses felt the shooting was justified. But video captured of the shooting is murky, and the ACLU is calling for a thorough investigation.

A man who reportedly entered a homeless shelter erratic and stabbing himself in the neck, has been fatally shot by Portland police

According to witnesses, John Elifritz entered Cityteam Ministries homeless shelter shirtless and distraught. 

Kirk Smith, a man who’s been living at the short-term shelter for a month, told The Portland Mercury, "It was intense." and that Elifritz was “twitching and freaking out” when he came inside. 

Smith said that a shelter volunteer gave Elifritz a jacket. Then, as the residents of the shelter watched, the troubled man began stabbing himself in the neck. 

“There was blood running down all over him,” Smith said. 

Police say that Fritz was suspected of an earlier carjacking, according to The Oregonian. A cousin told the paper that the 48-year-old Elifritz had struggled on and off with methamphetamine use. 

Smith said that eight police officers arrived with rifles, that officers attempted shooting with rubber bullets, but Elifritz kept getting up. When Elifritz waved his knife at the police dog, officers fired.

Police have not confirmed Smith's account. 

Video was taken by one person, but witnesses gave varied interpretations of whether the shooting was justified. 

WARNING: Video contains graphic content. May not be suitable for all viewers.

Smith told The Portland Mercury, “The guy was begging for help, he was suicidal. They could have Tased him, taken to get some help. They didn’t need to shoot him.” 

But three witnesses, including shelter resident Morgan Thomas Pickering, told The Oregonian they thought the police behaved in a way that was legitimate. 

Pickering said the police were "absolutely 100 percent justified," adding, "Cops did everything right."

"I applaud their actions," he said. "They actually saved lives." 

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Oregon released a statement saying, "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? We join many in the community by calling for a prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation into this shooting. The public deserves to get a detailed account of why this man was shot and what actions Portland Police took to avoid yet another fatal shooting." 

Portland police chief Danielle Outlaw cautioned the public to be slow in coming to conclusions. "I am aware a video was taken of this incident by a community member and that video was posted to the internet," she said in a statement. "Please be reminded that deadly force investigations are extremely complex and take time." 

These incidents are indeed complicated and having video can be useful in determining whether a police shooting was justified. But videos can be a double-edged sword: seeing the graphic violence can stir emotions and undermine objectivity, and the video can be incomplete or not show enough to make a criminal case against the cops. 

Hopefully a fair and honest investigation will be conducted, the public's questions will be answered, and, if police were in the wrong, they will be held accountable. 

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Flickr, torbakhopper

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