Mayor Charlie Hales places Police Chief on paid leave

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Portland Mayor Charlie Hales on Tuesday placed Police Chief Larry O’Dea on paid administrative leave a day after new details emerged that the chief misled an investigator about his involvement in an eastern Oregon hunting accident.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward told The Oregonian/OregonLive that O’Dea initially indicated that his friend accidentally shot himself April 21 during the off-duty trip.

“We need our Police Bureau operating at its best, and our officers can’t do that when there’s turmoil and confusion surrounding their leader,” Hales said in a prepared statement.

O’Dea only recently publicly acknowledged that he shot his friend in the lower left side of his back while camping and hunting near Fields.

Ward said O’Dea and other witnesses to the shooting steered the deputy who responded into thinking the wound was a self-inflicted accident.

O’Dea never identified himself as a police officer and didn’t tell anyone from the Harney County Sheriff’s Office that he had accidentally fired the shot from his .22-caliber rifle, the sheriff said.

O’Dea admitted to the mayor on April 25, four days after the shooting, that he had shot his friend by accident, according to the mayor’s spokeswoman Sara Hottman.

O’Dea said last Friday that he negligently discharged his rifle — with no further explanation. Neither he nor the mayor divulged the shooting until reporters started asking questions. Authorities haven’t identified the friend, saying only that he was a 54-year-old man. He was treated and released at a Boise hospital.

Police and sheriff’s officials also have declined to say how exactly the chief’s rifle fired and under what circumstances.

At the time, O’Dea was with a handful of others, including retired Portland police Sgt. Steve Buchtel, a former Portland police firearms supervisor who served on the bureau’s tactical squad with O’Dea, and retired Sgt. Mike Lieb, who also served on the bureau’s Special Emergency Reaction Team with O’Dea.

Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Justice are conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting.

Portland’s Independent Police Review Division on Monday initiated an internal investigation.

Constantin Severe, the division director, said he learned about the shooting through news reports. His division, which conducts all police internal affairs investigations involving command staff of captain rank and higher, was never alerted of the shooting by the Mayor’s Office or the Police Bureau.

“I don’t know why IPR was not notified,” Severe said “We should have been.”

Asked why the mayor didn’t make that notification, his spokeswoman said, “Typically the chief or otherwise PPB Professional Standards, would alert IPR.”

Last week, Hales said he supported O’Dea, 53, a 29-year bureau veteran who joined Portland police on Sept. 4, 1986, and rose through the ranks before he was appointed by the mayor to serve as chief, starting in January 2015.

The mayor has now appointed Assistant Chief Donna Henderson, who has led the bureau’s investigations branch, to serve as acting chief. Henderson joined Portland police in July 1988.

Henderson sent an email to bureau members, pledging “to communicate with you as we move forward.”

“Headlines aside,” she said,”we have a lot on our plate as an agency, including critical staffing issues, the ongoing (Department of Justice) DOJ-related items, budgetary issues and of course, we are headed into Rose Festival and a busy summer. I know you will continue to work hard and serve this city to the best of your ability. You have my support and commitment to do my best as your Acting Chief.”

O’Dea’s annual salary was $192,504 when appointed as police chief. Under a contract with the city, he would receive a severance payment of one-year’s pay if terminated without cause. His salary and benefits would end if he were fired with cause. Typically, such firings involve serious misconduct, a violation of city rules regarding ethics or a conviction for any crime that could bring discredit to the city of Portland.

In his weekly chief’s update to members last Friday, O’Dea set to address a rumor that he was planning to retire in October, writing: “Rumor of the Week – Chief O’Dea is retiring in October. Fact – False.  I still have no plans of retirement as yet.  I am hearing this one quite a bit recently.  I think it has come up again based on that I will have 30 years on, my son ends probation in October, and it’s another 27 pay period retirement month.  With the election of a new mayor, I suspect versions of this will continue to be speculated.  Of course, the people in my position tend to know it last so keep letting me know what you hear so I have a heads up!”

The president of the Portland Police Association quickly called for O’Dea to “step aside during the investigation.”

Officer Daryl Turner, the union president, hadn’t commented publicly on the controversy until the mayor acted.

“Based on the severity of the allegations regarding an incident in Harney County involving Chief Larry O’Dea, we strongly believe that Chief O’Dea should step aside during the investigation,” Turner said in a statement.

Turner also said the bureau’s standards for “transparency and trust” shouldn’t be exclusive to the rank-and-file, but to command staff and the chief as well.

Here’s the mayor’s full statement:

Mayor Charlie Hales has placed Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea on administrative leave, pending the outcome of several open internal and external investigations.

“We need our Police Bureau operating at its best, and our officers can’t do that when there’s turmoil and confusion surrounding their leader,” Mayor Hales said. “Chief O’Dea has been providing excellent service as our police chief, and now needs to focus on these investigations. He and I agree that going on administrative leave during these open investigations is in the best interest of the Bureau and the city.

“I am awaiting the outcome of internal and external investigations before commenting about the incident, and urge all Portlanders to do the same.”

In late April, Chief O’Dea was on vacation in Harney County, when he had a negligent discharge from his .22 caliber rifle that injured one of his close friends. The injured man was treated and released from the hospital and the Harney County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the incident.

Oregon State Police, Oregon Department of Justice, Portland Police Bureau Professional Standards, and Portland Independent Police Review have open investigations into the incident.

Chief O’Dea has been given a Communication Restriction Order by the Portland 

ndependent Police Review, which is a written order that restricts the Chief from discussing the facts of the case.

Assistant Chief Donna Henderson will be acting chief while Chief O’Dea is on leave. Mayor Hales is currently at a conference in Washington, D.C., and returns Wednesday.

Here’s Turner’s full statement:

The rank and file of the Portland Police Bureau live and work by a standard and code of conduct set forth by the Chief of Police, his managers, and most of all, by the needs and the expectations of the evolving and diverse communities we serve. When the standard is breached, there is an extensive investigation process in place that assures full disclosure and transparency to the public as well as every member of the Bureau. However, the expectation of this standard of transparency and trust does not and should not be exclusive to the rank and file; it must also include our Command staff, supervisors, managers, and the Chief himself.

Based on the severity of the allegations regarding an incident in Harney County involving Chief Larry O’Dea, we strongly believe that Chief O’Dea should step aside during the investigation.

This incident has compromised the integrity of the Police Bureau, and should not be a reflection on our sworn and non-sworn members who work tirelessly and diligently to build trust and respect within our community.

The Portland Police Commanding Officers’ Association also put out a statement, calling for a full, impartial investigation of the chief’s actions. Here it is:

Integrity and accountability are two of the core principles of the Police Bureau. All members of the organization, up to and including the Chief, must be held to the same high standards. A full, impartial investigation must be conducted to determine if the Chief complied with the law and PPB policies regarding the incident last month in Harney County. Further, the investigation must be transparent to ensure both public faith and internal credibility.

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