Your new police chief is taking the gig seriously. Mike Marshman being announced by Mayor Charlie Hales.
Your new police chief is taking the gig seriously. Mike Marshman being announced by Mayor Charlie Hales.

With a pair of investigations into his conduct yet to be publicly released, Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea is calling it quits.

A little more than two months after he mistakenly shot a friend in the back during a camping trip, O'Dea—a three-decade veteran of the Portland Police Bureau—will retire this afternoon, Mayor Charlie Hales says.

Hales formally announced the decision at a 10 am press conference. The Oregonian first reported on O'Dea's impending retirement yesterday.

O'Dea's been on paid administrative leave for more than a month, and since then it's never looked likely he'd serve another day as chief. More interesting than his confirmed departure is what Hales is doing to replace O'Dea.

Assistant Chief Donna Henderson has been acting chief since late May—and earned plaudits recently for how her bureau handled massive vigils following the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando—but she's going to have to give up the reins of the bureau. Captain Mike Marshman will assume the role of chief this afternoon, potentially leading the police bureau at least until Mayor-Elect Ted Wheeler takes office in January.

Marshman's been a Portland police officer since 1991, heading north after a brief stint in San Diego. He's also been a central figure in the police bureau's efforts to comply with a settlement with the US Department of Justice over the bureau's dealings with people experiencing mental illness. Oh, and he didn't really want the job.

When Hales approached him about becoming chief last week, Marshman said he'd have to think about it, the mayor revealed this morning. Now, as he assumes the lead, the bureau has the potential for some fairly intense shake-ups.

That's because as captain, Marshman leap-frogged commanders and assistant chiefs at the bureau, and will have the ability to set up his command staff as he pleases. Henderson and other current assistant chiefs are reportedly under investigation from the City Auditor's Office's Independent Police Review division, which has been looking into the bureau's internal handling of the shooting . Hales didn't acknowledge that when asked why he promoted a captain, instead citing Marshman's work on the DOJ settlement.

Acting Police Chief Donna Henderson addresses mourners at a vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims earlier this month.
Acting Police Chief Donna Henderson addresses mourners at a vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims earlier this month. Doug Brown

"He's the right leader for the Portland Police Bureau right now," Hales said.

In his own remarks, Marshman set three goals he says every officer in the police bureau needs to internalize under his watch:

•building community trust

•reaffirming the bureau's "internal legitimacy," which Marshman described as trust within the bureau

•focusing on the mandates of the DOJ settlement.

"I truly am honored," said Marshman, who described his love for the city as a reason he ultimately accepted the job.

Marshman's taking over the police bureau during a trying time—and not just because of ongoing tensions over the settlement. The city's short dozens of officers, and might be on the verge of gutting specialty policing units just to fill patrol shifts. Mayor Charlie Hales has been flogging a proposed pay increase for cops as a recruiting tool, but it's unclear he's got support from City Council for that labor deal, which would cost millions.

The new chief's got the apparent support of Wheeler, who Hales briefed on the promotion this morning. The city's next mayor issued a statement calling Marshman "a quality choice to fill the role of Portland Police Chief."

"I expect him to bring stability to the department and begin to address the significant public safety issues that exist in our community," Wheeler said. But he noted: "I have been clear that a comprehensive national search for a Police Chief is in the best interest of Portlanders the Police Bureau [sic]. I am confident that Chief Marshman will be a top candidate for the position, should he have an interest in continuing as Police Chief."

Not everyone was so thrilled with the appointment. A segment of activists who've excoriated the city's innovative and fractious process for dealing with the settlement showed up at this morning's press conference, hurling jeers from the back. At one point, frequent City Hall critic Joe Walsh began running a pre-recorded message from his bullhorn—"How much did you know, Charlie?" is all I could understand—and fell down when a security officer tried to snatch it from him. The ensuing bedlam forced the mayor to move the press conference into the secured confines of his offices.

It wasn't the only interruption. At one point Oregon US Attorney Billy Williams' cell phone began going off, and he could not figure out how to quiet it. This is what your top federal prosecutor apparently receives his calls to (specifically, the chorus).

To refresh why this morning's shake-up occurred: An apparently intoxicated O'Dea wounded his friend, 54-year-old Robert Dempsey, while they were shooting at squirrels during an eastern Oregon camping trip April 21. A report from a Harney County deputy says a shaken O'Dea chugged water during an interview shortly afterward, and suggested Dempsey might have shot himself.

But just four days later, O'Dea reportedly admitted to firing the mistaken round to Hales, and to the head of the PPB's Professional Standards Division. Stunningly, the Portland police investigators never reached out to Harney County to follow up about the incident involving O'Dea, an apparent violation of bureau directives. It wasn't until May 14 that Harney County officials learned that O'Dea had fired the round. They had to learn it from the victim himself.

Hales also kept the incident quiet, and allowed O'Dea to continue to act as chief for nearly a month after the shooting. He was only placed on leave after it became public, which is nowhere close to how off-duty officer-involved involved shootings have been handled in the past.

That sequence of events has resulted in both criminal and internal investigations. The Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Justice are figuring out if O'Dea committed a crime in shooting his friend, then telling a deputy he didn't. The Independent Police Review is trying to piece together what, if anything, went wrong within the bureau.

Hales adamantly refused to discuss his decision process after the shooting today, preferring to say he'd await the outcome of investigations to make comment, and repeatedly scolding the media for its reporting on the incident. Much of that reporting stems from public documents, the most revealing of which was written by a sworn law enforcement deputy.

Hales, though, says he thinks there will be "gaps" between the outcome of the investigations and what's been reported.

"Police work is difficult and public service is difficult, particularly when we race to judgment in all things," he said. "Perhaps that's why it's hard to recruit police officers all over the country."

O'Dea's decision could well be a hint that at least one of those investigations is close to becoming public. Rumors have swirled that the DOJ investigation is forthcoming for weeks. The O reports O'Dea is eligible for a pension of roughly $160,000 per year.