In the days after he mistakenly shot a friend in the back, former Police Chief Larry O'Dea allowed those around him to believe criminal and internal investigations into the matter were playing out, even though they weren't.
That's a central conclusion of a findings memo [PDF] City Human Resources Director Anna Kanwit issued to Mayor Ted Wheeler in June, concluding O'Dea had thrice breached city rules after the April 21, 2016 shooting—violations that included lying to investigators, bringing reproach upon the city, and not giving proper notification about the incident.
The Mercury first reported the findings on Wednesday, but Kanwit's memo, obtained this afternoon via public records request, offers more detail. Though riddled with lawyers' redactions, the memo summarizes an investigation the city's Independent Police Review conducted into the incident.
An overarching conclusion of the document: "The overall impression from the investigation is that O’Dea allowed certain assumptions to be made but that he took no action to ensure that important and critical information was shared."
On April 21, 2016, O'Dea was camping with friends in Harney County. The group was shooting at ground squirrels when the former chief's rifle apparently misfired, striking a friend named Robert Dempsey in the back. O'Dea told a responding sheriff's deputy that Dempsey might have shot himself while trying to re-holster a pistol, and has said he didn't actually realize he was the shooter until days later.
O'Dea alerted then-Mayor Charlie Hales, his assistant chiefs, and the police bureau's internal affairs captain to the matter on April 25, 2016. But Harney County deputies wouldn't find out about O'Dea's involvement until May 16. And an internal investigation didn't begin until May 23, after word of the shooting had leaked to the press.
Kanwit's memo says a big reason for that lag was O'Dea. It lays out interviews with four former assistant chiefs—Bob Day, Donna Henderson, Mike Crebs, and Kevin Modica—about what O'Dea told them of the shooting on April 25, 2016.
Crebs told investigators that upon hearing O'Dea's account, he assumed authorities in Harney County understood he'd been the one to shoot Dempsey. "During Crebs’ second interview he expressed surprise that the deputy had not known O’Dea was the shooter," the memo reads.
Henderson, too, told investigators she assumed an investigation had begun, since O'Dea said he'd told the bureau's Professional Standards Division about the matter (which he had).
"O’Dea asked the ACs to keep the incident to themselves," the memo says, paraphrasing Henderson.
Day recounted O'Dea being more vague in the matter. "AC Day reported that O’Dea said he may have been responsible for the shooting after reflecting on the incident over the weekend," the memo says. "Day also noted that the assistant chiefs had a responsibility to act if they thought the chief had engaged in wrongdoing but Day believed the chief and [Professional Standards Capt. Derek] Rodrigues were taking the appropriate steps."
All four assistant chiefs recounted, in some form, O'Dea asking them to keep the matter quiet. And O'Dea agreed, telling investigators that "he also told the ACs the investigation was ongoing so they needed to keep the information secure," the memo says.
In fact, no investigation would begin for weeks. Harney County deputies only learned that O'Dea was the shooter when they were able to interview Dempsey about the matter in mid-May. And despite the fact that O'Dea reported the matter to Rodrigues on April 25, it took even longer for an internal investigation to begin. The Independent Police Review, which wound up investigating, wasn't told about the matter until after it became public knowledge on May 20, 2016, via a report in Willamette Week.
Both Kanwit and Wheeler found O'Dea had brought discredit the bureau via the shooting—particularly because it took so long to become public. They also found he didn't properly report the matter, though the details surrounding that allegation are heavily redacted in the findings memo. And perhaps most damningly, Kanwit and Wheeler found O'Dea had misled IPR investigators about the nature of his conversation with his assistant chiefs (again the precise details of his lies are hard to parse because of redactions).
A fourth allegation against O'Dea—that he improperly instructed his subordinates not to speak of the matter—wasn't sustained by Kanwit, though only because of a technicality.
"This allegation is not sustained but only because of what appears to be a general lack of forthrightness on the part of O’Dea, it is difficult to determine if O’Dea’s actions were a deliberate attempt to keep the incident as quiet as possible," the memo reads.
One big remaining question in this incident: Why it took so long for an internal investigation to begin after O'Dea informed Rodrigues about the matter. Rodrigues' actions have also been investigated, though no findings have been made public.
As we noted Monday, O'Dea was found to have violated city policy in another case, where he failed to launch an investigation into a subordinate's complaints about inappropriate comments she received. As with with shooting investigation, O'Dea was found to have lied to investigators looking into that matter—a fireable offense.
"If you were still employed by the police bureau," Wheeler wrote to O'Dea in a letter last month, "I would terminate your employment."