O’Dea wasn’t intoxicated after shooting, lawyer says

Lawyer threatens lawsuit

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

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea was not impaired by alcohol when interviewed after the accidental shooting of his friend on a camping trip, and statements to the contrary are defamatory, according to a new filing by his attorney.

Portland lawyer Derek Ashton has filed a lawsuit threat against Harney County and state law enforcement officials for “releasing false and defamatory statements to members of the media,” specifically those indicating that O’Dea was impaired or showed signs of intoxication when interviewed by a Harney County Deputy Sheriff on April 21.

The threat, known as a tort claim notice, was filed even as O’Dea nears a Dec. 2 arraignment in Harney Count Circuit Court on misdemeanor charges of negligent wounding.

The shooting, and Harney Sheriff Dave Ward’s subsequently terming it a “cover-up,” propelled a firestorm of media coverage that led to the announcement of O’Dea’s retirement on June 26.

O’Dea was criticized for initially saying that he didn’t know who shot his friend during the camping trip, only to later tell police bureau officials he did it — prompting an internal investigation of whether O’Dea was truthful. News of the shooting was not made public until it was leaked to Willamette Week a month after it took place.

The lawsuit threat says O’Dea suffered damages on May 24, when a Harney County Sheriff’s report was released saying O’Dea appeared intoxicated when interviewed after the shooting. O’Dea smelled of alcohol and had “glassy, watery and bloodshot eyes,” according to the report.

Mayor Charlie Hales, announcing O’Dea’s retirement in June, blamed a “trial by media” and “smearing” for O’Dea’s departure, predicting that the former chief would be vindicated as the truth came out.

Retired Assistant Chief Donna Henderson in July told The Oregonian that four days after the shooting O’Dea told his assistant chiefs that he lay his gun down, only to hear his friend cry out. O’Dea said took a couple of days for the chief to realize he’d been the one to shoot his friend, Henderson said.

According to the Nov. 21 lawsuit threat, “Larry O’Dea has suffered and continues to suffer damages including, but not limited to, impairment of his reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, loss of employment, and mental anguish and suffering.”

In October a Harney County grand jury indicted O’Dea for negligent wounding. The case is being handled by the Oregon Department of Justice rather than the Harney County District Attorney.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.