Witnesses believe police justified in killing suspect at SE homeless shelter

Three witnesses to a fatal officer-involved shooting late Saturday night at a Southeast Portland homeless shelter say the man police killed had burst into the facility and was slashing and stabbing himself with a knife before he lunged at officers.

“It was horrific,” said Morgan Thomas Pickering of Portland during an interview Sunday morning across the street from the Cityteam Ministries shelter on Southeast Grand Avenue. Pickering was waiting in the rain across the street from the shelter to retrieve his belongings. “We were all scared for our lives.”

Pickering and the two other witnesses, both of whom declined to be identified and were checked into the facility at the time of the incident, all say the police were justified in shooting the man, who they say was acting erratically.

Police say the man who was shot was a suspect in an earlier carjacking.

Officers responded at 7:30 p.m. to a report of a crashed vehicle at Southeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Stark Street, according to police. When they arrived, the driver had fled.

Officers learned the a car, a silver Honda CRV, had been stolen in a carjacking earlier in the day, Sgt. Chris Burley, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Saturday night.

Police during the search said they located the suspect inside the Cityteam Ministries Portland Shelter, a long-term and emergency homeless shelter.

Cityteam Portland Executive Director Mike Giering on Saturday said Alcoholics Anonymous meeting had just begun at the time of the shooting. The witnesses said the meeting was in progress when the suspect came through the door, shirtless.

One witness said a shelter employee gave the man a jacket. Shortly after, police arrived.

Pickering, who filmed part of the incident on his phone, said the man had a knife and was “stabbing himself in the neck.”

(Warning: Video contains graphic material)

Pickering and two others described the man as erratic and shouting, slashing and stabbing himself with a knife. They said police fired either rubber bullets or bean bags, but they didn’t subdue the man, who then lunged at officers with the knife in his hand.

At that point, the witnesses said, officers shot him.

“Three, four, five shots,” Pickering said. “He just dropped.”

Medical responders determined the man was dead at the scene, police said.

Pickering called officers’ action “absolutely 100 percent justified,” adding, “Cops did everything right.”

“I applaud their actions,” he said. “They actually saved lives.”

The two other witnesses echoed Pickering, calling the chaotic scene terrifying.

The men said buses took most of the between 30 and 40 people at the shelter to another location. Those who remained spent a cold night in the rain, waiting for their belongings to be released from the shelter Sunday morning.

At 8 a.m., the witnesses were still waiting while officers continued the investigation. The area remained closed to traffic.

Police have not identified the suspect. They have not said how many officers fired their weapons nor released the identifies of the officers involved. The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation and a grand jury hearing have concluded, protocol for the bureau.

Elliot Njus contributed to this report.

— Lizzy Acker

lacker@oregonian.com, @lizzzyacker

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