Spokane Deputy Police Chief Al Odenthal, a 26-year veteran of the force, resigned Tuesday following behind-the-scenes negotiations over his future with the department.
Various City Hall officials said personnel issues prevented them from commenting publicly about the circumstances of Odenthal’s departure, but the retirement ends a tumultuous year for the 54-year-old lawman.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has been on the job three months, and “it is not uncommon” for a new administrator to make changes in top personnel, said Mayor Dennis Hession.
“It’s ultimately (Odenthal’s) decision based on their conversations to do something different or retire,” Hession said.
City officials blamed Odenthal for a bungled criminal investigation involving firefighter Daniel Ross’ sexual encounter with a 16-year-old girl at a firehouse in February and ordered it reopened. The criminal investigation was reassigned to Deputy Chief Bruce Roberts.
The city now faces a federal lawsuit in which the girl, now 17, says she was raped.
Odenthal was directly involved in reviewing the convenience store surveillance tapes in the controversial death of Otto Zehm, a mentally ill janitor who died after a scuffle with seven police officers. Looking at the tapes, Odenthal said there was no evidence that Zehm had a plastic pop bottle, which officers had said constituted a weapon. After months of controversy, a city spokeswoman discovered that a fourth surveillance tape clearly showed the two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi in Zehm’s hands.
When Chief Roger Bragdon retired last December, Odenthal had entertained the possibility that he might be elevated to chief and pushed to be considered for the post, but he failed to make the list of four finalists that included only one internal candidate – Roberts.
Ultimately, the job went to Kirkpatrick, who promised to restore public trust in the agency.
Kirkpatrick and city spokeswoman Marlene Feist confirmed the departure with a brief statement Tuesday explaining that Odenthal had chosen to retire from the force effective immediately.
Kirkpatrick declined to elaborate, and Odenthal couldn’t be reached for comment. Officers contacted at the Spokane Police Department were surprised by Tuesday’s announcement but wouldn’t otherwise comment.
Spokane fire officials who worked with Odenthal were also caught off guard.
“As the chair of the 911 board, he’s always looked out for what was best for the community,” said Fire Chief Bobby Williams, who served on the board with Odenthal. “On large incidents, such as ice storm, he always did a real nice job representing the Police Department and worked well with the Fire Department.
“In my relationship with him, he’s always been a team player.”