Former Chief Larry ODea—apparently liked lying to investigators
Former Chief Larry O'Dea—apparently liked lying to investigators Ashley Anderson

While employed as the city's police chief, Larry O'Dea lied to city investigators looking into his conduct and committed other violations of city rules, two internal investigations have found.

A letter [PDF] Mayor Ted Wheeler sent to O'Dea last month lays out five separate breaches of city policy by O'Dea, springing from two separate incidents during his less than two years at the helm of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). Since they include untruthfulness, the violations would have been enough to warrant O'Dea's firing if he still worked for the city.

"If you were still employed by the police bureau," the mayor writes—twice—in the letter, obtained by the Mercury via public records request, "I would terminate your employment."

The bulk of O'Dea's violations spring from an April 21, 2016 hunting accident in which he mistakenly shot his friend Robert Dempsey in the back.

On that day, the former chief and several friends were shooting at ground squirrels during a campout in Harney County, when O'Dea's .22-caliber rifle apparently misfired, dealing Dempsey a non-lethal wound. O'Dea—who appeared intoxicated to a responding deputy but denied drinking—at first claimed to authorities his friend had mistakenly shot himself. He told investigators he only came to realize that he was the guilty party days later.

Scrutiny from the incident led O'Dea to retire in June 2016, though a pugnacious former Mayor Charlie Hales told reporters the chief would be "partially exonerated."

He was sort of right. After an investigation by Oregon State Police, a grand jury indicted O'Dea on a single misdemeanor charge of negligent wounding, but the matter was ultimately dropped, per Dempsey's request. That makes the city's internal investigation, conducted by the Independent Police Review (IPR), the only inquiry into O'Dea's conduct during and after the shooting that hasn't been publicly resolved.

The letter from Wheeler to O'Dea changes that. According to the document, the IPR investigation resulted in four allegations that O'Dea had breached city protocol, which were forwarded on to Human Resources Director Anna Kanwit. Kanwit found three of those allegations had merit.

The first was that O'Dea brought "reproach and discredit upon the city of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau by causing a negligent discharge of a firearm." That's a violation of a police directive on professional conduct.

Kanwit also found that O'Dea "failed to respond fully and truthfully" during a May 24 interview about the incident with IPR. The letter doesn't go into the substance of O'Dea's misrepresentations.

Responding to the Mercury's inquiries, Kanwit said she couldn't offer more details. "We don't release the disciplinary letters so... I can't really provide more information," she said.

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, who oversees IPR, said "I don't have any details to share." We've also reached out to Wheeler's office for more details.

Update, 1 pm: We asked Wheeler for more information about his decision at City Hall today. He said he wanted to re-review the findings before speaking about them at length.

"I don't want to do this one off the cuff," he said, but offered: "It was real clear cut to me."

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A third violation is less clear. The letter says O'Dea "failed to provide adequate notice" about the incident to some entity or another, but attorneys' redactions make details hard to glean, including what police directive O'Dea violated.

It's possible the allegation has to do with O'Dea not giving more complete notice to PPB internal affairs investigators or IPR that a shooting had occurred, and that he was a potential criminal suspect. While O'Dea's colleagues at the police bureau learned of the shooting four days after it occurred, an internal investigation into the matter didn't launch until nearly a month later.

O'Dea also faced a fourth allegation in the shooting incident: That he "improperly" instructed his assistant chiefs not to speak about the matter with anyone. Kanwit didn't agree the allegation had been proven, the letter shows.

The former chief's apparent dishonesty in the shooting incident wasn't a one-off. Also included in Wheeler's letter are findings from a separate incident, the details of which are also partly redacted.

According to the document, internal affairs investigators opened an investigation in 2016 that resulted in accusations that O'Dea "did not report allegations of possible misconduct related to statements made by [REDACTED] about a protected class." Another allegation said that O'Dea "was untruthful in his interview with [the Bureau of Human Resources] and Internal Affairs about his knowledge of possible misconduct" in the case.

PPB Assistant Chief Matt Wagenknecht recommended O'Dea be found in violation of police directives on both allegations, which Kanwit and Wheeler agreed with.

This second investigation has roots in the complaints of an administrative assistant at the PPB, who the Oregonian reported complained about inappropriate comments made by the bureau's diversity and equity manager, Elle Weatheroy.

According to the newspaper's report, the administrative employee brought the complaint to O'Dea, and became concerned when he didn't begin an internal investigation. So she wrote a memo that ignited a human resources investigation.

The ensuing inquiry led to turmoil in March, when former Chief Mike Marshman (who succeeded O'Dea), placed the bureau's only Black assistant chief on leave in connection with the investigation. Commissioner Dan Saltzman recently suggested that decision was out of step with discipline norms, and might have been racially motivated.

We now know the investigation would have cost O'Dea his badge.

So what's this mean for the former chief? The findings outlined in Wheeler's letter will go into O'Dea's personnel file. The Mercury asked Kanwit if they'd be shown to a prospective employer if O'Dea wants to get back into law enforcement.

"If we had a release we would provide that information to a prospective employer," she said. "We might even without a release."

Kanwit added that she believed the city had forwarded the findings to the state's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which certifies officers throughout the state implements training standards for police. She wasn't sure what the agency might do with the information.

Update, Thursday: The Mayor's office says the findings were not shared with DPSST, as Kanwit believed. But the Oregonian reports that the department does have an open investigation into O'Dea's conduct.

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The former chief had 30 days from the time he received the letter to file a response. On August 3, the Mercury requested any responses O'Dea had sent, and received none from the city. Kanwit says she doesn't believe O'Dea submitted one.

O'Dea collects roughly $160,000 in annual pension payments, according to the Oregonian.