MAYOR CHARLIE HALES' phone rang early on April 25. The police chief had some surprising news.
Chief Larry O'Dea had just come back from a camping trip with a group of former cops. They'd been out in the remoteness around Fields, Oregon, way down in Oregon's southeast corner. Occupier country.
And, oh by the way, O'Dea had shot his friend.
In a bombshell that's suddenly placed the chief's future with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) in serious jeopardy, it emerged late last week that O'Dea let off an errant shot from a .22 caliber rifle on April 21, striking a 54-year-old acquaintance in the back (he was fine).
And that wasn't even the full story.
It turned out neither O'Dea nor his associates thought it necessary to explain the chief's involvement to investigators at the Harney County Sheriff's Office. For more than three weeks, authorities believed the man had shot himself in the back. They didn't realize O'Dea was even an officer of the law, let alone the top cop in Oregon's largest city.
In an indignant release, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward announced he'd not had any indication O'Dea had fired the offending shot until May 16 (even though O'Dea had confessed the error to Hales all the way back in April).
"He should have picked up the phone and called our office and said this is what happened," Ward told the Oregonian on May 23.
A day later, O'Dea was where he should have been shortly after Hales answered his phone on April 25: on paid administrative leave. Today the shooting is being investigated by no fewer than four entities: the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon State Police, the city's Independent Police Review, and the PPB's own Professional Standards Division.
There's no telling what sort of consequence the chief will face. But after three decades in the bureau, and 16 months at its helm, it's not hard to envision O'Dea without a job in the near future.
If it turns out he lied to Harney County investigators to save himself embarrassment or discipline, that's as it should be.
A thornier question is what to make of Hales' conspicuous silence in all this.
When O'Dea's transgression became public May 20 via a report in Willamette Week, the mayor had been sitting on the knowledge for nearly a month without saying a word. Hales' office defended its silence, claiming it was standard policy not to air the off-duty misadventures of cops, so long as they're not arrested or charged with anything.
Well, O'Dea still hasn't been arrested or charged, and suddenly the mayor's changed his tune. "[O'Dea] and I agree that going on administrative leave during these open investigations is in the best interest of the bureau and the city," Hales said in a statement.
But most of the investigations had been underway before word of the incident was made public—the police bureau had been looking into it since April 25, and the department of justice was alerted May 16.
It was just the attention that changed. Thank goodness something did.