SAN FRANCISCO, April 11, 2018 -- A deadly police shooting of a man triggered controversy in a community in the United States on Sunday, after proponents and opponents for the police came up with conflicting reports.
The man, identified by his family as John Elifritz, a 48-year-old native of Portland in the western state of Oregon, was shot dead by a police officer on Saturday night at a Southeast Portland homeless shelter.
A video shot by a bystander on the police officer-involved incident was posted on a social media site. Police said they "believed the man was armed," while others rebuked the police for taking such lethal action.
About 40 people held a vigil for the man at a street corner outside the shelter on Sunday, and some of them held signs reading "More Mental Health Care, Not More Cops," local TV KATU reported.
The OregonLive news outlet reported that witnesses to the fatal shooting said the police were justified in protecting innocent and unarmed people by killing Elifritz.
It quoted the witnesses as saying that the man "had gone into the shelter Saturday night and was slashing and stabbing himself with a knife before lunging at officers."
"It was horrific," said Morgan Thomas Pickering, who was waiting in the rain across the street from the shelter.
"We were all scared for our lives," he told the news outlet.
However, another witness named Kirk Smith said he saw eight police officers responding to the incident.
"They used the bean bags and then they shot him. It didn't make any sense," Smith said, adding "He was begging for help."
A family member of the victim said Elifritz had struggled at times with methamphetamine use, but was trying to get his life back in order.
Portland Police Bureau Chief Danielle Outlaw said in a statement Sunday afternoon that the public should reserve judgment after someone posted video online that purportedly shows the shooting.
"Deadly force investigations are extremely complex and take time. The police bureau is committed to transparency and will ensure the entire investigation is released in a timely manner," she said.
Nevertheless, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU Oregon) questioned the killing, saying "The video shows the man was at some distance from the officers when they opened fire and does not appear to be holding a gun."
The video "raises serious questions about how police handled the situation and whether lethal force was called for," said David Rogers, executive director of ACLU Oregon, in a statement.
"This marks the fifth fatal shooting by police in Oregon in 2018, putting it on track to be one of the deadliest years yet," he said.
He called for more transparency in police law enforcement, and urged police to "treat all communities with dignity and employ restraint on police power."