Hunting trip shooting prompts Portland chief's removal

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2016 7:46 PM
Hunting trip shooting prompts Portland chief's removal

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland's police chief was placed on paid administrative leave this week after revelations he may have initially lied to authorities about shooting a friend in the lower back during an April 21 hunting trip in eastern Oregon.

Chief Larry O'Dea stepped aside at the request Mayor Charlie Hales after multiple agencies began probes about a week ago into the shooting.

Assistant Chief Donna Henderson was named as acting chief until the investigations are complete.

The controversy stems from how O'Dea characterized the incident to deputies at the scene — a "self-inflicted" accident by the victim — versus his description to Hales — a "negligent discharge" of the chief's .22 caliber rifle — four days later, according to officials from Harney County, Portland Police and the mayor's office.

There aren't many details about the incident, but under Oregon law and local police codes, lying to authorities or negligently hurting someone with a firearm is grounds for dismissal and having a hunting license revoked.

"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," Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said in a statement.

O'Dea didn't identify himself as a police officer to Harney County authorities, neither at the scene nor later on.

O'Dea, 53, who has been with the department for 30 years, was unavailable for comment as standard protocol during ongoing investigations, Portland police officials said. O'Dea took charge of the nation's 49th largest local police department in January 2015.

Hales, who appointed O'Dea in 2014 and is currently undergoing contract negotiations with the police union, also didn't inform Harney County officials of what he knew, but his spokeswoman Sara Hottman said there's nothing that required him to do so.

"On Monday, April 25, Chief O'Dea told the mayor about the incident, and said there would be an investigation," Hottman said in an email. "There is no reason the mayor would contact investigators when it was clear that an investigation was underway. Typically, investigators contact witnesses who they think have useful information."

O'Dea's involvement came to light May 16, almost a month after the incident, when Harney's Sheriff Dave Ward was interviewing the unidentified victim, the sheriff told The Oregonian/Oregon Live this week.

"Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward was initially briefed on April 22, 2016 of the shooting incident and was told that it was a self-inflicted accidental shooting," Ward said in a statement. "Further information was gathered which contradicted this and Sheriff Ward was notified on May 16, 2016 that Portland Police Bureau Larry O'Dea was involved in the incident."

The Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon State Police have teamed up on a criminal investigation into the shooting, while Portland Police and a city police independent review board are conducting their own probes.

The shooting took place roughly 65 miles south of Harney County's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the site of an armed occupation by anti-government militants earlier this year.