The chief of police in Portland, Ore., was placed on leave Tuesday amid investigations into whether he inadvertently shot a friend during a vacation last month and covered it up.
Mayor Charlie Hales said he had placed Larry O’Dea, the police chief, on administrative leave while the shooting incident is investigated by multiple agencies.
“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 statement.
O’Dea, a three-decade veteran of the Portland police, has been its chief since last year. Before he was sworn in, he had served as the assistant chief of operations for the Portland police, one of the 50 largest departments in the country, according to the most recent federal statistics.
Hales’s announcement about placing O’Dea on leave, first reported by the Oregonian, came more than a month after the shooting occurred in a corner of Oregon more than 380 miles away from Portland.
The Harney County Sheriff’s Office said it responded to a 911 call about an unidentified man being shot once in his back in Fields, an area in southeastern Oregon. The 54-year-old man was described in police records as alert and breathing.
Although the Harney County Sheriff David Ward “was told it was a self-inflicted accidental shooting,” it later appeared this was not the case, the sheriff’s office said in a statement this week.
Ward learned last week that O’Dea was involved in the shooting and asked the Oregon State Police for help, his office said. (Earlier this year, Ward drew national attention as the face of the law enforcement response to the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Harney.)
On Monday, Ward told the Oregonian that O’Dea never identified himself as a police officer or the Portland police chief when questioned by a deputy. Ward also said that O’Dea and others with him suggested that the shooting was self-inflicted.
“I do know it didn’t happen the way it was originally portrayed,” Ward told the newspaper. He said that his office was able to interview the injured man for the first time last week. Ward added: “The victim made it pretty clear he didn’t shoot himself. The victim knew who shot him.”
Little information has been released so far about the identity of the 54-year-old man who was shot. Hales’s office said only that O’Dea “had a negligent discharge from his .22 caliber rifle that injured one of his close friends.”
At least three investigations have been opened into the incident. The Oregon Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the case after it was referred to them last week, and the Oregon State Police say they are assisting in the investigation.
The Portland police force is conducting an internal investigation, while the Independent Police Review, a civilian oversight agency, also said Monday that it had launched its own administrative probe after learning about the incident.
“Chief O’Dea has been providing excellent service as our police chief, and now needs to focus on these investigations,” Hales said Tuesday. “He and I agree that going on administrative leave during these open investigations is in the best interest of the bureau and the city.”
O’Dea was not available for an interview because of the ongoing investigations, police officials said. Sgt. Peter Simpson, spokesman for the Portland police, said O’Dea has been given a written order restricting him “from discussing the facts of the case,” which he described as standard protocol during internal investigations.
“Chief O’Dea is unable to offer any comments on the ongoing investigation by the Oregon State Police or the internal investigation,” Simpson said in a statement.
After O’Dea was placed on leave, Donna Henderson, an assistant chief, was named acting chief of the force. In an email sent to members of the department and publicly released, she promised to forge ahead, writing: “Headlines aside, we have a lot on our plate as an agency.”
This story, first published Tuesday, has been updated.