PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The wife of a man killed by police inside a Portland homeless shelter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officers who fired their weapons, asserting a "police code of silence" allowed officers to shoot and then lie without fear of consequences.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday night in federal court seeks monetary damages for the death of John Elifritz, but does not specify an amount.
"There is nothing, nothing I can do that can bring him back," Barbara Elifritz said Wednesday. "But if we all stand together, maybe another family won't have to go through this."
City attorney Tracy Reeve declined comment, saying the city has yet to review the lawsuit.
John Elifritz, 48, died from gunshot wounds April 7, a day in which police received several 911 calls about his bizarre, menacing behavior.
He called police himself to report his family had been murdered but officers determined his family was safe. Officers later found him and tried to approach, but he held a knife to his throat and ran away.
He later carjacked a vehicle that he crashed outside the shelter.
He burst into the shelter around 8 p.m., followed by a swarm of heavily armed police who fired after telling him to drop a knife.
A video of the shooting showed Elifritz across the room from police and partially obscured by a low wall. He stumbled forward and fell shortly after shots rang out.
A grand jury declined to indict the officers, but the video raised questions in the community about whether lethal force was warranted.
The lawsuit contends the seven police officers and one sheriff's deputy involved in the shooting falsely claimed that Elifritz placed them in imminent fear of bodily harm.
"Defendants had good reason to believe that their misconduct would not be revealed or reported by fellow officers of their supervisors, that their false, incomplete, and misleading reports would go unchallenged," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit highlights to a 2012 investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found Portland police engaged in a "pattern or practice" of excessive force when encountering mentally ill people or people that officers thought had a mental illness.
A federal judge in 2014 adopted a negotiated settlement between the city and Justice Department officials that called for a package of reforms to police policies, training and oversight.
Andrew Stroth, the attorney representing Barbara Elifritz, said the shelter shooting shows little has changed.
"From our perspective, (Portland police) militarized and did not de-escalate a situation of a person in mental health crisis," he said Wednesday.