4 Portland assistant police chiefs under investigation

The four are suspected of violating bureau policies

A Portland Police Bureau precinct in downtown Portland. (KOIN 6 File)
A Portland Police Bureau precinct in downtown Portland. (KOIN 6 File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — As the state investigation of Chief Larry O’Dea’s shooting of a friend continues, a parallel city probe has expanded its focus to include his four top aides at the police bureau.

PPB Chief Larry O'Dea in a file photo.
PPB Chief Larry O’Dea in a file photo.

One of the four assistant chiefs now under investigation by the city’s civilian oversight unit, Donna Henderson, was designated acting bureau chief by Mayor Charlie Hales on May 24, after the O’Dea investigation was launched.

Henderson, as well as her peers Mike Crebs, Bob Day and Kevin Modica, have been notified that the Independent Police Review division considers them “involved members” in the O’Dea probe, meaning they are suspected of violating bureau policies, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The situation is unprecedented in modern Portland history.

The four, like O’Dea, have been issued gag orders and are forbidden to discuss the situation.

Bureau spokesman Pete Simpson declined to comment, citing the pending investigation by the Independent Police Review division, which is overseen by the elected Portland auditor, Mary Hull Caballero.

The new wrinkle in the Independent Police Review probe could have ripple effects regardless of its outcome. The situation developed as Hales is expected to soon name an interim chief to lead the bureau for what could be a long time.

For administrative and political reasons, Hales may want the interim chief to be someone other than the four assistant chiefs currently under investigation.

O’Dea is on leave as he is investigated over the shooting, which took place April 21 while he was on a camping trip in Harney County. When asked about it at the time, he suggested to a Harney County Sheriff’s deputy investigating the shooting that his friend’s wound was self-inflicted, according to the deputy’s report.

The state Department of Justice is investigating the shooting to determine whether a crime occurred. Meanwhile, on May 20, the city’s civilian watchdog, the Independent Police Review division, launched an investigation to interview witnesses and determine whether Portland Police Bureau policies were violated.

Negligent wounding of another person is a crime. As far as the IPR’s review of whether internal policies were followed, police officers are required to be truthful. If O’Dea is found to have lied, he could face discipline or even termination and lose his state law enforcement certification.

Because the four assistant chiefs are not represented by any union, they are expected to retain lawyers to address the IPR probe.

Why they are now under scrutiny remains unclear. It has been widely reported that O’Dea informed them, as well as Hales, of the shooting on April 25. Under city code, IPR was supposed to be notified, but was not.

The bureau, O’Dea and Hales have been criticized for not opening an investigation until after news of the shooting was broken by Willamette Week. IPR could be investigating the early handling of the case.

Since IPR launched its probe on May 20, it’s likely that some or all of the assistant chiefs have been interviewed by IPR. Any discrepancies could have sparked follow-up investigation by IPR to determine whether one of the officials was untruthful.

A spokeswoman for Hales on Monday declined to comment for this story, citing the open investigation. IPR director Constantin Severe also declined to comment for the same reason.

During the April incident, O’Dea and his friends had been lined up in camping chairs, shooting at ground squirrels, or sage rats, they told the Harney County investigator who responded to the scene.

Days later, after the wounded man underwent medical treatment, he told the investigator that O’Dea called him to admit he shot him accidentally. O’Dea reportedly told his friend the gun had been misfiring all day.

The incident and subsequent leadership uncertainty comes as the bureau is beleaguered on several fronts, including poor morale, low staffing, and loss of veteran officers to retirement and other agencies.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations are underway that could boost pay and settle union grievances, such as one claiming officers are being put in unsafe situations due to the lack of backup.

Many observers are skeptical O’Dea will regain the chief’s job, regardless of the investigation’s outcome. Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler has in the past expressed interest in conducting a national search for a new chief.

Depending how long that search takes, observers say, the new interim chief could hold the job for a year to 18 months.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner. 

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