After less than a year on the job, Tampa police chief Mary O’Connor resigned. Why did a minor traffic stop on a golf cart lead to her resignation?
What Happened During the Traffic Stop?
On November 12, 2022, Tampa police chief Mary O’Connor was riding in the front passenger seat of a golf cart. Her husband Keith O’Connor was driving the golf cart on the road illegally in Pinellas County, a county neighboring Hillsborough County where Tampa is located.
The couple was pulled over by Pinellas sheriff’s deputy Larry Jacoby. Jacoby stopped the couple because they were driving on the road without the required license plate tag for a golf cart.
The encounter was caught on body cam footage.
In the video, the officer explains why he pulled the couple over. O’Connor pulls her badge from her pocket and presents it to the officer. She informs him that she is the Tampa police chief and says, “hoping that you’ll just let us go tonight.”
Near the end of the encounter, O’Connor apologizes to the deputy, gives him her business card, and says, “if you ever need anything, call me.”
The officer let the couple go without a ticket.
The Repercussions After the Traffic Stop
Roughly two weeks after the traffic stop, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay submitted a public records request for the body camera footage of the incident from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
O’Connor knew there was footage from the traffic stop. During the video, she asks the officer if his body cam is on, and he replies that it is.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was first notified about the incident once the footage was about to be released to the public, 18 days after the traffic stop. O’Connor notified Castor the day the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay the video would be released the next day.
The day the video was released, Castor ordered an internal affairs investigation, and the Tampa Police department released a statement which included comments from both O’Connor and Castor.
O’Connor said, “In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent. I knew my conversation was on video, and my motive was not to put the deputy in an uncomfortable position. I have personally called the Pinellas County Sheriff offering to pay for any potential citation.”
Castor said, “We hold everyone accountable, no matter their position, and this behavior was unacceptable. Chief O’Connor will go through the due process and face appropriate discipline.” Castor then opened an internal affairs review of the incident.
Not long after the release of the video, on December 5, 2022, O’Connor resigned. In a statement, Castor said it was “unacceptable for any public employee, and especially the city’s top law enforcement leader, to ask for special treatment because of their position.”
Assistant police chief Lee Bercaw was named interim police chief.
Beginning and Ending in Controversy
O’Connor’s ten months as Tampa police chief started and ended with controversy.
When O’Connor was named as a police chief in March, many people were upset about the decision. In 1995, when O’Connor (known then as Mary Minter) was a rookie police officer in Tampa, she disrupted a traffic stop. She was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for a suspected DUI. The driver (who was also a Tampa police officer) was arrested for a DUI, and O’Connor was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, obstruction, and disorderly intoxication.
Both officers were fired and then later reinstated. O’Connor went on to have a long career in law enforcement which eventually led to her becoming Tampa’s police chief.
Many in Tampa believed the incident should have disqualified O’Connor, but she was named as Tampa police chief in March 2022. Now after just ten months, the city of Tampa is conducting a national search to find her replacement.
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