Tampa police chief resigns after footage shows his badge flashing at a golf cart stop

After ten months as Tampa’s top cop, Chief Mary O’Connor resigned after body camera footage surfaced of her showing her badge to a Pinellas County deputy during a police stop. the circulation. With her husband driving the golf cart, she asked the deputy to “let us go”.

On Monday, O’Connor submitted his resignation letter following the controversy. She was placed on administrative leave on Friday, and Deputy Chief Lee Bercaw began serving as acting police chief.

“I never want my personal error to stand in the way of the progress I have made in repairing the relationship between the police department and the community, so for that reason, I am resigning,” her letter said in part.

Read Mary O’Connor’s full resignation letter here

Mayor Jane Castor said she accepts the resignation.

“It is unacceptable for any public servant, and especially the city’s top law enforcement official, to seek special treatment because of their position. Public Confidence in the Tampa Police Department is paramount to our success as a city and community,” Castor said in a statement. statement. “It’s particularly disappointing because I gave Mary O’Connor a second chance, because I believe in second chances for people. That’s one of the reasons the disappointment runs so deep today. “

“I had high hopes for Chief O’Connor,” she added. “She’s gotten off to such a great start in reducing violent gun crime, proactively engaging with our community, and focusing on the well-being of officers. But those accomplishments pale in comparison to the priority I place on integrity.”

The mayor sat down for a one-on-one interview hours after accepting O’Connor’s resignation.

“I don’t know if betrayal is the word, but disappointment,” Castor told FOX 13.

She said she gave O’Connor a second chance after a controversial selection process that highlighted O’Connor’s leadership skills but also his arrest from 1995, after which the rookie cop was fired and reinstated for beating a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy during a traffic stop.

“I think she was a good choice, and I’m giving those second chances,” Castor said. “You can never know what decisions individuals are going to make later. Obviously she made a very bad decision.”

The body camera video was released Thursday after Creative Loafing Tampa Bay first discovered the traffic stop. Castor placed O’Connor on administrative leave the next day for the investigation.

Investigators say Mary O’Connor and her husband were riding in an unmarked golf cart outside a residential area of ​​Oldsmar on November 12. They were outside a golf cart-friendly neighborhood when they were arrested, along East Lake Road. and Woodlands Parkway at approximately 7:24 p.m. The deputy’s body camera was rolling during the encounter.

In the video, the deputy explains to the couple that they were arrested for an unregistered golf cart. O’Connor is also seen showing off her badge.

“Is your camera on?” she asked.

“It is,” said the deputy.

“I’m the Tampa police chief,” O’Connor said.

“Ah, how are you? »

“I’m fine…I hope you’ll let us go tonight.”

Moments later, the deputy is heard saying, “Okay, well, take care and it was a pleasure to meet you.”

Then O’Connor handed the deputy her business card.

“If you need anything, call me. I’m serious,” she said.

On Sunday, the investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Department was completed, finding that O’Connor had violated the standard code of conduct and abused his position as chief. The final decision report was signed by Bercaw, the acting police chief.

“Chief O’Connor used his official position and insignia to obtain privileges, not otherwise available, for the purpose of avoiding the issuance of a ticket,” the report said. “The actions compromised the professionalism, ethics and goals of the police chief and the city of Tampa.”

Read the full report here

The mayor says they will search across the country for a new leader, as they did last year.

“We’ll make sure the community is involved, the city council, everyone has the ability to meet the candidates like we did before,” Castor said.

New interim chief Lee Bercaw spoke with the mayor during his interview with FOX 13 and indicated he would be interested in the top job. But his current focus is to provide leadership.

“Officers know their integrity and ethics, and what happened here is a constant reminder of the professionalism and ethics they must maintain,” Bercaw said.

Mary O’Connor’s career with TPD

In January, the city of Tampa announced its top three candidates for the next police department chief following a nationwide search: O’Connor, Deputy Chief Cherise Giordani Gause of the Miami Police Department and Ruben “Butch” Delgado, who was the acting police chief. He later retired after O’Connor was sworn in.

Former police chief Brian Dugan officially retired in September 2021.

In February, Mayor Castor named O’Connor as the next police chief. The two worked together at TPD for over a decade. Since his nomination, controversy has built up among councilors and the public ahead of the council’s vote to approve the nomination.

O’Connor’s past was called into question after his appointment. In 1995, she was fired from the department after being charged with punching a Hillsborough County deputy during a DUI arrest involving her future husband.

During his time with the police department, O’Connor dedicated the first 22 years of his career to serving Tampa and the people who call it home. She worked her way through the Tampa Police Department and retired as deputy chief in 2016.

“I knew from an early age that this was my calling,” O’Connor said after being introduced as the next police chief in February. “I believe in this community and in this department. Together we can do great things.”

Councilman Carlson addressed O’Connor’s controversial past when contacted by FOX 13 on Friday:

“When we interviewed her, she said, ‘What happened in the past is in the past, and it won’t happen again’, so I’m surprised something similar has happened again because that she promised us that it would not happen again… So [she] asked for a favor and at the end gave her a business card and said “If you need anything just let me know, seriously” which implies a special privilege for some people and I don’t think not that it represents the hardworking men and women of our police force.

“Our police force is very honest and hardworking. Our police force is mostly people who work hard and want to be respected, and this is not all fair to them.”

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