Portland, Oregon's police chief has been placed on leave pending the outcome of several investigations into why he falsely told authorities that he was not responsible for the accidental shooting of his friend during a hunting trip.
Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea accidentally shot a friend in April, but local authorities who were investigating the shooting said they weren't aware of his involvement until almost a month later.
On Tuesday, the city announced that O'Dea was on administrative leave "pending the outcome of several open internal and external investigations."
“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,” Mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement. “Chief O’Dea has been providing excellent service as our police chief, and now needs to focus on these investigations."
The shooting, which was not immediately made public, was reported by Willamette Week on May 20. At that time, a statement from Portland police said the accidental discharge of a .22-caliber rifle was reported to the Harney County Sheriff's Office, Portland's mayor, and the police department's professional standards division.
On Monday, the Harney County Sheriff's Office said they had not been immediately notified O'Dea was involved. Authorities on April 21 received a 911 call that a 54-year-old man had been shot, and investigation began.
According to a Harney County Sheriff's Office incident summary, the victim suffered a wound to his lower back from a small-caliber gun. When an investigator arrived, O'Dea appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.
O'Dea told the investigator that the men had been sitting in a line of lawn chairs. O'Dea said he had set his pistol down on his chair and got up to get a drink. He said he was a few steps away when he heard his friend groan in pain.
"Mr. O'Dea said it appeared to him that maybe [the victim] was trying to holster a pistol and accidentally shot himself," the incident summary said.
The investigator said he believed the men, and the sheriff was briefed the next day that the gunshot had been self-inflicted. But on May 14, the investigator said he received a call from the victim. The man said O'Dea had called him to apologize. O'Dea had been having trouble with his gun jamming and misfiring throughout the day, the victim said. After getting up for the drink, O'Dea returned to his seat and picked up the gun, which then accidentally fired, the victim told authorities. On May 16, the sheriff was notified O'Dea had been involved in the shooting.
The sheriff then notified the Oregon State Police, who have opened a criminal investigation of the shooting along with the state department of justice.
The Portland Police Bureau Professional Standards and Portland Independent Police Review are also investigating.
"I’m very thankful that my friend is OK and I’m tremendously upset this happened,” O’Dea said in a statement Tuesday.
O'Dea has been with the Portland Police Department since 1986, and was promoted to chief in January.
“I am awaiting the outcome of internal and external investigations before commenting about the incident, and urge all Portlanders to do the same," Hales said.
Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
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