Groups question police shooting at Oregon homeless shelter

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Groups question police shooting at Oregon homeless shelter
Portland police close a block of Southeast Grand Avenue during the investigation into Saturday's shooting inside a homeless shelter in Portland, Ore., Sunday morning, April 8, 2018. Portland's police chief cautioned the public Sunday to reserve judgment after a video purportedly showing several officers fatally firing on a carjacking suspect at a homeless shelter made its way online. (Lizzy Acker/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Groups and family members are raising questions about whether officers resorted to deadly force too quickly when they shot and killed a man inside a Portland, Oregon, homeless shelter who was wanted for a carjacking.

Bystander video posted on social media shows officers firing rounds not long after entering the shelter with guns drawn Saturday. Witnesses said the suspect had a knife. The video shows him across the room from officers before he appears to move closer to them, though it’s not clear why and a barrier partially obscures the view.

“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 Sunday night. “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?”

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 have not identified the man killed this weekend, but the shelter’s executive director, Mike Giering, said he has no known connection to the facility.

David Elifritz told The Oregonian/OregonLive it was his brother, 48-year-old John Elifritz. He questions why police didn’t use a stun gun on his brother.

“You see the video and you think cops are supposed to be trained to handle this,” David Elefritz said. “There’s quite a space between him and the officers.”

Portland police have released few details, other than saying the man was a suspect in a carjacking. After crashing the car, he entered the shelter during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting attended by 30 to 40 people.

The video shows a noisy, chaotic scene, but several witnesses seemed unfazed by the man who burst into the meeting with a knife.

Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Ted Wheeler have 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.”

David Elifritz says his parents adopted John Elifritz and a brother as kids, initially taking them in as foster parents. The boys’ biological mother died in a car crash and their biological father was 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.