The decision by Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea and the mayor to keep the chief’s off-duty shooting of a friend during a hunting trip under wraps for almost a month has rankled current and retired Portland officers, who contend that anyone else would face immediate investigation and remain on paid leave or desk duty in the meantime.
“I wonder if he will be assigned to TRU,” just-retired Portland Officer John Hurlman posted on his Facebook page. He was referring to the Police Bureau’s Telephone Reporting Unit, basically the holding spot for officers under investigation.
Hurlman was removed from street patrol and placed on desk duty in November after supervisors learned he had written a Twitter message complaining that he’d be stuck late at work “to babysit these fools,” referring to a planned Black Lives Matter march.
“I just sent a tweet. At least I didn’t shoot my friend in the back,” Hurlman wrote in his post.
Hurlman also faced public censure when he fatally shot a 3-year-old Labrador while jogging off-duty in Hillsboro in 1997. A day afterward, according to news accounts, then-Portland police spokesman Lt. Cliff Madison said: “A dog’s not a big deal, so we didn’t do much with it.” Portland police routinely investigate when off-duty officers fire their weapons, he said.
Hurlman took a voluntary two-week leave and was assigned to a desk job when he came back. A criminal investigation led to his indictment on animal abuse, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges. In a civil compromise reached later, he agreed to pay the family $10,000 and the charges were dropped.
Hurlman’s wife, Christy Hurlman, also vented on her Facebook page over the weekend, saying she was frustrated by what she sees as a double-standard with O’Dea.
“What really gets my goat here, is that he kept this quiet for ONE MONTH!! If an officer had a ‘negligent discharge’ with a hunting rifle that endangered the life of a friend, he would have been pulled out of his assigned duty,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
O’Dea shot a 54-year-old friend in the lower left back with his .22-caliber rifle on April 21 while hunting in Harney County, Portland police and Harney County sheriff’s reports revealed Friday. Steve Buchtel, a retired Portland sergeant and a former Portland police firearms training supervisor who had served with O’Dea on the bureau’s tactical squad, called 911 to report the shooting.
The wounded man has been identified only as a “close friend” of O’Dea’s. He was airlifted by LifeFlight helicopter to the nearest trauma hospital, in Boise, Idaho. He was treated and released, police said.
Retired Portland police Capt. C.W. Jensen, who served as the police spokesman under former Chief Charles Moose from 1994 to 1996, said he can’t believe someone in the bureau or mayor’s office didn’t “have the common sense” to disclose the chief’s mistake as soon as possible.
“The bottom line is when people shoot other people hunting, it’s news,” he said.
Now, he said, “It’s kind of made itself a bigger deal than it should have been, simply because of the delay in time.”
“If somebody made a decision, ‘Well, we’re just going to lay low on this?’ Really? Someone had to go to the hospital. He screwed up, and shot his friend. If it was made public the next day, it would have been interesting. You wouldn’t have this question of ‘Why were they covering this up?”’
The reaction among the bureau’s rank-and-file was swift and ferocious. A handful of current officers who spoke to The Oregonian/OregonLive questioned the delay and said the chief’s belated acknowledgement shows a disappointing lack of leadership. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
O’Dea and Mayor Charlie Hales, who serves as police commissioner, didn’t return calls or emails, asking them to explain why they didn’t notify the public about the shooting until reporters asked.
The mayor’s spokeswoman Sara Hottman said the mayor was following standard policy — not publicizing off-duty conduct of an officer who hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime.
“The City generally does not announce such things while there are open investigations,” Hottman said in an email.
The mayor, she wrote, “was and is concerned with supporting a good man and good chief, who is heartsick about hurting his friend.”
Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler, through a spokesman, declined comment.
But retired and current officers pointed to examples of the bureau publicizing off-duty police misconduct while officers are under investigation and before they face charges.
In one case, the bureau issued a brief release 11 days after then-traffic Capt. Todd Wyatt had a road rage encounter on Aug. 13, 2011, while returning from a vacation in Idaho. Wyatt was involved in an “off-duty incident while driving that involved another driver,” the release said. Wyatt was under investigation at the time.
He had flashed a gun at the other motorist, but no one was injured in the confrontation. Wyatt was later charged with exhibition of a firearm, but an Idaho jury acquitted him of the criminal offense. A police internal affairs inquiry found Wyatt acted inappropriately by displaying his gun. O’Dea, then an assistant chief, testified before an arbitrator in support of Wyatt’s demotion, arguing that displaying a gun means the person is prepared to shoot. O’Dea described Wyatt’s actions as reckless. The arbitrator ordered him reinstated to captain and instead suspended without pay for 60 days.
In September 2012, veteran Portland police Officer Joseph C. Hanousek submitted his papers to retire, two days after a Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy called him to investigate a reported accidental discharge of his firearm at a bus stop while off duty. Hanousek told the deputy he dropped his .380-caliber handgun on Sauvie Island while getting off a bus after work, but he denied that it went off. Witnesses said otherwise. No one was injured.
In O’Dea’s case, investigators have released no details of how the shooting happened. It’s not clear whether O’Dea identified himself as Portland’s police chief when questioned by Harney County deputies or if alcohol was a factor. The Harney County incident report is still being finalized, Lt. Brian Needham said.
State police and the Oregon Department of Justice are now investigating. They have declined to comment further. On Monday, the city auditor’s Independent Police Review Division also announced that it has opened an administrative review of O’Dea and will interview witnesses.
O’Dea called Hales, who serves as police commissioner, at 7 a.m. on April 25, four days after the shooting, Hottman said. That was the first morning the mayor was back from a trip to Europe with the U.S. transportation secretary, she said. Hales returned to Portland the night of April 24, she said.
Retired Officer Tom Mack, a former police union president, noted that O’Dea has lengthy experience as a former member of the the tactical squad known as the Special Emergency Reaction Team. The members are called in to handle high-risk encounters.
“I guarantee you, if this was one of the peons who did this in the bureau, it wouldn’t be, ‘OK, that’s OK, Tommy, I know you’re feeling bad you hurt your friend.”’
“I’m shocked and appalled the chief isn’t more forthright with his behavior,” Mack said. “Negligently wounding another is something pretty serious.”
He’s surprised it took even four days for O’Dea to inform the mayor.
“It seems pretty cavalier,” Mack said. The chief must have the mayor’s cellphone number and could have reached him in Europe, he said.
Hales hand-picked O’Dea for the job and he became chief in January 2015.
O’Dea needed to be forthright to set an example as a leader of the nearly 950 officers sworn to uphold the law, Mack said. “Remember, he’s the one who passes judgment on other officers who make mistakes,” he said.
In 1990, an off-duty hunting accident claimed the life of a Portland police officer. He was shot by his friend and fellow Portland police officer near the Big Nestucca River in the Coast Range. The Tillamook County District Attorney’s Office made the shooting public the next day.