Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor identified herself as chief, pulled out her badge and asked a Pinellas deputy to “just let us go” after she and her husband were pulled over in a golf cart last month, a video shared by the Tampa Dating Agency the police showed on Thursday.
In the video, which was captured by the deputy’s body camera during the Nov. 12 traffic stop in Oldsmar, the deputy immediately lets them go as they exchange pleasantries.
He asks if they live in East Lake Woodlands and the couple confirms they do.
‘Well, nice to meet you. I’m Deputy Jacoby,” he says.
He and O’Connor shake hands as she replies, “Same here, my friend.” Take care of yourself. Sorry to bother you.”
“Don’t worry,” the deputy replies before adding, “We’ve got a lot of problems with the golf carting here.”
The couple tells him that they don’t normally go out, but that they went to a Greek restaurant to get some takeout.
She then hands over what appears to be her business card and tells the deputy, “If you ever need anything, call me.”
O’Connor’s husband, Keith, was not named because he did not have a tag on the golf cart while driving on a public road.
The incident was first reported by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
O’Connor was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.
A police press release includes a statement from O’Connor saying she has apologized to Mayor Jane Castor and wishes to apologize to residents.
“In hindsight I realize how my handling of this case could have been viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intention,” O’Connor said. “I knew my conversation was on video and my motive was not to put the deputy in an uncomfortable position. I personally called the Pinellas County Sheriff to pay for a possible citation.
Castor also could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but the press release included a statement from her saying: “We hold everyone accountable, regardless of their position, and this behavior was unacceptable. Chief O’Connor will go through due process and be disciplined.”
According to the release, O’Connor contacted the Tampa Police Professional Standards Bureau “asking for the same discipline any officer would receive for similar conduct.”
Police say an internal investigation is currently underway.
Pinellas’ deputy is not being judged on the incident, according to Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Amanda Sinni.
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O’Connor’s behavior — and subsequent arrest — during another traffic stop some three decades ago when she was a rookie Tampa officer was one of the issues that brought controversy to her appointment as chief.
In 1995, O’Connor was with her then-boyfriend Keith O’Connor, also a Tampa police officer, when they were pulled over by a Hillsborough deputy. Mary O’Connor, then known as Mary Minter, repeatedly disturbed deputies trying to give Keith O’Connor a sobriety test, and she was asked to sit in a patrol car to calm down, according to published reports and personnel files.
She kicked the windows and hit a deputy on the shoulder and chest with her fist. Deputies arrested Keith O’Connor on charges of drunk driving and Minter on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, obstruction and disorderly intoxication. She did not plead charges of battery and obstruction. A judge withdrew the verdict.
Both officers were suspended and then fired, but later reinstated. Both worked their way up to the top of the department. Keith O’Connor retired as assistant chief in 2019 and is now the city’s neighborhood improvement manager.
O’Connor has said she was an immature person who made a terrible decision and then made the most of her second chance at a career in law enforcement. She said the experience gave her a valuable perspective that helped her as an agent and would help her as a department leader.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson told the Tampa Bay Times in a text: “This proves that (Councilman Orlando) Gudes and I were right in challenging this nomination and that Castor should have listened to public feedback rather than of harassing and attacking council members for this vote.”
Gudes declined to comment until he read the story.
Randy Nelson, a police expert and professor at Bethune-Cookman University, viewed the footage posted to the Tampa Police Department’s YouTube channel at the request of the Times. He said it is especially important for law enforcement officials to show leadership given the current political climate and declining trust in the police.
“Integrity is important,” he said. “The public needs to feel that whether you stop me or someone who is a politician, they are treated the same way.”
Times staff writers Chris Tisch, Tony Marrero, Natalie Weber, Charlie Frago and Matt Cohen contributed to this report.