Family Of Man Shot At Homeless Shelter Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

By Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB)
Portland, Ore. May 23, 2018 2:33 p.m.
A sign that sits out the entrance of the Cityteam Ministries Shelter reads "More Mental Health Not More Cops."

A sign that sits out the entrance of the Cityteam Ministries Shelter reads "More Mental Health Not More Cops."

David Stuckey / OPB

UPDATE (May 23, 12:14 p.m. PT) — The family of a man shot and killed by police inside a Southeast Portland homeless shelter has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Portland and the individual officers involved in the fatal shooting.


The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the wife of 48-year-old John Elifritz and the couple's juvenile daughter, alleges that seven officers and one Multnomah County Sheriff's deputy killed Elifritz without legal justification.

“It's shocking to me that Portland, which is supposed to be one of the most livable cities in America, that attracts tourism, businesses and people, is killing folks on these streets," said attorney Andrew M. Stroth, who is representing the family. "The question is: When is enough enough?"

According to the lawsuit, unconstitutional policies and practices at the Portland Police Bureau result in unjustified officer-involved shootings of people suffering from mental health crises. The city is therefore also liable for Elifritz's death, his family’s lawyers contend.

The lawsuit also accuses the officers of conspiring to prepare false, misleading or incomplete official reports of the incident to cover up misconduct.

John Elifritz's 12-year-old daughter Stormy and wife Barbara.

John Elifritz's 12-year-old daughter Stormy and wife Barbara.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra / OPB

Elifritz was shot after police pursued him as a suspect in an April 7 carjacking. In a 911 call made by a witness, Elifritz was described as engaging in a road rage scenario, tailgating and pointing a black object in a threatening manner.

The pursuit eventually led to the Cityteam Ministries Portland Shelter, where witnesses said Elifritz used a knife to stab himself in the neck. According to the lawsuit, Elifritz was experiencing a mental health crisis.


“From our perspective, the PPB militarized and did not de-escalate a situation of a person in mental health crisis,” Stroth said.

The bureau was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and a 2012 settlement after the DOJ found a pattern of excessive use of force by Portland Police Bureau, particularly with people suffering from mental health problems.

Earlier this month, the Multnomah County District Attorney's office decided not to pursue charges against the eight law enforcement officials involved in the shooting, which was captured on cellphone video.

Stroth said his firm, Chicago-based Action Injury Law Group, is conducting its own investigation into the shooting. Stroth would not say whether the city or the Portland Police Bureau are cooperating with that investigation.

Related: Grand Jury Transcripts In Portland Shelter Shooting Delayed By New State Law

Meanwhile, an internal investigation into whether police acted within bureau policy continues. Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has said that the bureau is committed to sharing all available information with the community as the bureau prepares reports and video files for public release.

Stroth held a press conference Wednesday and was joined by Barbara Elifritz, her 12-year-old daughter Stormy and other family members. Between tears, she told reporters she knew John Elifritz for almost 30 years.

“There’s nothing, nothing that I can do that’s going to bring him back. But if we all stand together, maybe another family won’t have to go through this,” she said. “And that’s what we want.”

The city also faces a potential lawsuit involving the shooting death of 17-year-old Quanice Hayes. Hayes' family filed its intent to sue the city in February — one year after a Portland Police officer shot and killed Hayes. Hayes, an African-American teen, was shot in the head and killed by Portland Police Officer Andrew Hearst on Feb. 9, 2017. He and other officers were responding to a report of an armed robbery.

Hearst fired his assault rifle three times, believing Hayes — who was on his knees when he was shot — was armed with a gun. At the time Hearst fired, officers had not seen a gun.

Police later found a fake gun nearby that Hayes had been carrying. Police say he pointed it at an individual near Northeast 82nd Avenue in Portland.

The family has yet to file the lawsuit.