Police Report Shows O'Dea Had Been Drinking When Shooting Incident Occurred

Portland police chief told a sheriff's deputy his friend shot himself, then later apologized to the friend for shooting him.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has released police reports describing the April 21 incident in which Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea accidentally shot one of his friends in the back.

The documents, first reported by The Oregonian, provide information why O'Dea might have misled Harney County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Nisbet about how the injured man, Robert Dempsey, 54, was shot.

Nisbet checked boxes on a hunting accident report next to three factors that contributed to the incident:

"Careless handling of firearm"

"Faulty equipment"

"Apparent use of intoxicants"

In his report, Nisbet says O'Dea and six friends were sitting in a line of lawn chairs in the Catlow Valley area of Harney County, shooting at ground squirrels and drinking. At 4:37 pm on April 21, a member of O'Dea's party, retired Portland police Sgt. Stephen Buchtel called 911.

Using his body camera to record interviews, Nisbet interviewed the members of O'Dea's party, starting with Buchtel.

"Buchtel said there was a steady amount of gunfire, and he heard Bob [Dempsey] start yelling, and he knew something had happened," Nisbet wrote in his report. "Buchtel said it looked like Bob tried to holster a pistol in a shoulder holster and had an accidental discharge."

Others told a similar story, that Dempsey appeared to have shot himself, although one man, Jeffrey Purvis, offered a slightly different view. "After he'd looked at the wound, Mr. Purvis said the angle was wrong to be self-inflicted," Nisbet wrote.

In his report, Nisbet noted that nearly all of the men showed signs they'd been drinking.

His interview with O'Dea was no exception.

"During the interview, I noted that I could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from [O'Dea's] breath, glassy, watery and bloodshot eyes. I also noticed that O'Dea was visibly nervous and shaking during the interview. Prior to the interview, I noticed Mr. O'Dea consume a bottle of water, and during the interview he also consumed another bottle of water."

O'Dea diagrammed where all the men had been sitting, indicating he was to Dempsey's left.

"Mr. O'Dea told me he had stood up, placed his gun on the chair and walked a couple of steps to where Mr. Purvis was and opened a drink. Mr. O'Dea said that is when he heard Bob [Dempsey] make a groaning sound consistent with (Bob) being in pain," Nisbet wrote.

O'Dea said he then started stripping Dempsey's clothes off to figure out what had happened.

"Mr. O'Dea said it appeared to him that maybe Bob was trying to holster a pistol and accidentally shot himself."

Dempsey was life-flighted to a Boise hospital, and after Nisbet completed his interviews with the other men, he spoke to them as a group.

"I said if anyone had any information about the shooting I needed to know about it, and no one said anything," he wrote in his report. "I also informed everyone that during the interviews I could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from almost everyone's breath, and I suggested they not drive."

Nisbet says Dempsey did not return his calls until May 14, more than three weeks after the incident. He told the deputy that O'Dea's .22-caliber rifle had not been working properly all through the day of the incident, "jamming, misfiring and not feeding."

But O'Dea kept using the gun.

"Mr. Dempsey said Mr. O'Dea put his gun down and went to get something to drink," Nisbet wrote. "Mr. Dempsey said when Mr. O'Dea returned, he picked his gun back up and Mr. O'Dea accidentally shot him (Mr. Dempsey)."

Dempsey did not know at first who'd shot him.

"Mr. Dempsey informed me that his friend Mr. O'Dea called him after the incident and was very emotional and apologizing for shooting him," Nesbit wrote. "That is when Mr. Dempsey learned that Mr. O'Dea shot him. Mr. Dempsey said Mr. O'Dea talked with his bosses and told them about the incident. Mr. Dempsey did not elaborate on who the bosses were."

After speaking to Dempsey, Nisbet told Sheriff Dave Ward on May 16 what he'd learned—that the original accounts of the incident were not true. That's when Ward called in the Oregon State Police, whose investigation continues.

O'Dea has previously said he will have no comment until the Portland Police Bureau's internal investigation and the Oregon State Police investigation are completed.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.