Family of man killed by police in homeless shelter hires federal civil rights lawyer

Friends and family placed this picture of John Andrew Elifritz outside Cityteam Ministries Portland Shelter on Southeast Grand Avenue. Police shot and killed Elifritz inside the building Saturday night. (Photo: Catherine Van/KATU News)

Cell phone video shows Portland officers shooting 48-year-old, John Elifritz several times before he died inside Cityteam Ministries on April 7. Investigators are reviewing several of those videos to determine if the shooting was absolutely necessary.

Federal civil rights attorney, Andrew Stroth, wants to get to the bottom of it; he's representing the Elifritz family.

His firm, Action Injury Law Group, is based in Chicago. His team specializes in families dealing with police shootings, police brutality and police excessive force. Stroth and his team will be in Portland in the next couple of days to conduct their own investigation.

"I watched the video several times it was very disturbing to me,"said Stroth. "Given the tragic way that John was executed by police when clearly he was in crisis, it was a case that we want to take a look at."

Police say Elifritz was holding a knife and threatened to harm himself and others at the shelter when he was shot. However, Stroth says Portland Police have a pattern of using excessive force.

In a 2014 settlement between the Department of Justice and Portland, the Police Bureau was required to improve how it handles cases involving mental illness.

"At this point, it appears Portland has continued to fail as it relates to use of force and especially relates to individuals suffering from perceived or real mental health issues," said Stroth.

Police Bureau commissioner and Mayor, Ted Wheeler, says at this point, it's irresponsible to speculate.

"Let's wait for the facts and I understand people are impatient. The process moves slower than people would like it to," said Wheeler.

While he doesn't know what happened in Elifritz's case, he says officers go through months of deescalation and anti-bias training, but he admits the training isn't perfect

"We need to completely re-look at how we serve people with mental health issues," said Wheeler.

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