A Multnomah County grand jury has determined that the local officers involved in fatally shooting John Elifritz last month were justified in their lethal use of force.
Elifritz, suspected of stealing and crashing a car, was shot shortly after ducking inside the Cityteam Ministries homeless shelter in southeast Portland on the evening of April 7. Based on cellphone video footage and witness testimony, Elifritz appeared suicidal and in the midst of a mental health crisis when he was shot at by five Portland police officers and one Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Deputy. In video footage, Elifritz appears at least three yards away from the officers. According to the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), officers believed Elifritz was holding a knife.
"The grand jury determined that the use of deadly force was a lawful exercise of self-defense under Oregon law," reads a media statement released by the PPB around 5 pm. This ruling means Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill will not seek criminal charges against any of the officers involved.
All officers involved in the shooting—many of which have a history of using excessive force against members of the public—are expected to return to their jobs shortly, according to PPB.
"The Portland Police Bureau remains committed to transparency and sharing all available information with the community," said Chief Danielle Outlaw, quoted in the statement. "We ask that community members be patient as all of the reports and video files are prepared for public release."
This is far from the end of the investigation into Elifritz' death. The PPB is currently conducting its own internal review of the shooting, which will eventually be presented in front of the Police Review Board, who will decide if the shooting should cost officers their jobs. Since this is a case involving lethal force, the community oversight panel for PPB—the Citizen's Review Committee (CRC)—won't be appeal to appeal whatever decision the review board makes.
In the meantime, Elifritz's family has retained a lawyer familiar with police shooting cases, who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. In a statement to the Mercury, Elifritz lawyer Andrew M. Stroth writes that the District Attorney's office has "failed the citizens of Portland."
"Consistent with the history and use of excessive force documented by the U.S. Department of Justice, John Elifritz was unjustifiably and unconstitutionally shot and killed by officers from the PPD," Stroth writes. "A 12 -year-old girl no longer has her father because of the unwarranted actions of these officers. The family will continue to pursue justice in spite of this decision by the District Attorney.”
PPB said it will release the investigative material used in this case to the public around May 25. Those documents will be made accessible here.