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Police chief placed on leave during hunting accident investigation

UPDATE: Henderson named acting chief


COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation continues into an April hunting accident in Eastern Oregon. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has placed Police Chief Larry O'Dea on administrative leave during an investigation of whether he lied about accidentally shooting his friend on a hunting trip.

Willamette Week broke the news of the shooting on Friday and reported on Sunday that O’Dea told Hales on April 25 he’d accidentally shot a friend. Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward issued a statement on Monday, revealing that O'Dea had apparently had misled investigators — telling them the shooting was self-inflicted. The Oregonian got the first interview with Ward and first reported details from the Harney County dispatch log, including that the victim was flown by Life Flight helicopter to Boise.

HENDERSONHours after placing O’Dea on leave, Hales appointed Assistant Chief Donna Henderson to replace him as acting chief. Henderson oversees the bureau’s investigations branch.

Henderson has been with the bureau since July 1988. In 1993, she was promoted to detective. Five years later, she was promoted to lieutenant and become the Hostage Negotiation Team commander. She became a captain in 2001 and was assigned to the bureau’s Personnel Division. Four years later, she took command of the Transit Police Division. In 2012, Henderson became a commander in the Detective Division.

Turmoil and confusion

According to an announcement from Mayor Charlie Hales, O'Dea is out pending the outcome of 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,” Hales said in the statement. “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.”

If O'Dea is found to have been untruthful, he faces being stripped of his police certification. He is not commenting and it's unclear what he will tell investigators; there had been initial speculation that he might resign Tuesday.

O'Dea, who took over the job in January 2015, has led the bureau at a time when it faces a shortage of officers despite a steady increase in calls requiring response. He and Hales have pushed the City Council for more funding and pay raises to try to stem the flow of officers leaving the department to retire, join other departments, or both.

To combat the shortage of officers, O'Dea moved their work schedule from three shifts per day to five overlapping shifts, in an effort to be more efficient. But the move has been unpopular and fueled perceptions of a top-down management style, contributing to poor morale among officers who say the new policy is not family friendly. A union grievance has reportedly been filed over the failure to negotiate the change with the Portland Police Association.

Last month, O'Dea briefly boycotted public meetings of the Independent Police Review Division over complaints of unruly audience behavior. Later on, IPR Director Constantin Severe gave O'Dea credit for resolving the impasse, citing a down-to earth style that helped negotiate changes to meeting protocol with members of the division's citizens review committee.

Multiple investigations

According to Hales, the Oregon Department of Justice and Portland Police Bureau are also investigating O'Dea's handling of the incident.

O’Dea has been prohibited by IPR from discussing the facts of the case.

Assistant Chief Donna Henderson will serve as acting chief while Chief O’Dea is investigated.

The city's announcement that O'Dea would be place on paid leave came shortly after the Portland Police Association called for O'Dea to "step aside" during the investigation.

Here is the union's news release:

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.