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Tampa police chief pulls out badge, asks deputy to ‘let us go’ during traffic stop

Tampa Bay Times 12/1/2022 Amy Gehrt, Tampa Bay Times

Tampa police Chief Mary O’Connor identified herself as chief, pulled out her badge and asked a Pinellas sheriff’s 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 Police Department on Thursday showed.

In the video, which was recorded 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, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Deputy Jacoby,” he says.

He and O’Connor shake hands as she responds, “Same here, my friend. Take care of yourself. Sorry to bother you.”

“No worries,” the deputy replies before adding, “We have a lot of problems with the golf carting around here.”

The couple tells him they don’t usually come out, but they went to a Greek restaurant to get some takeout food.

She then hands over what appears to be her business card, telling the deputy, “You ever need anything, call me.”

O’Connor’s husband, Keith, was not cited for not having a tag on the golf cart while he was driving on a public road.

The incident was first reported by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

O’Connor could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

A news release from the Police Department includes a statement from O’Connor in which she says she has apologized to Mayor Jane Castor and wants to apologize to residents.

“In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent,” O’Connor said. “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 also could not be reached for comment Thursday, but the news release included a statement from her in which she 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.”

According to the release, O’Connor has contacted the Tampa Police Professional Standards Bureau “asking to receive the same discipline that any officer would receive for similar conduct.”

The Police Department said an internal review currently is being conducted.

The Pinellas deputy is not under review for the incident, according to Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amanda Sinni.

O’Connor’s behavior — and subsequent arrest — during another traffic stop some three decades ago while she was a rookie Tampa officer was among the issues that mired her appointment as chief in controversy.

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 sheriff’s deputy. Mary O’Connor, known then as Mary Minter, repeatedly disrupted deputies who were 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 records.

She kicked the windows and struck a deputy on the shoulder and chest with her fist. Deputies arrested Keith O’Connor on a drunken driving charge and Minter on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, obstruction and disorderly intoxication. She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and obstruction. A judge withheld adjudication.

Both officers were suspended and then fired, but later reinstated. Both worked their way up to the top ranks of the department. Keith O’Connor retired in 2019 as an assistant chief and is now the city’s neighborhood enhancement 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 law enforcement career. She said the experience gave her valuable perspective that helped her as a cop and would help her as the department’s leader.

Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson told the Tampa Bay Times in a text, ”This proves that (council member Orlando) Gudes and I were correct in challenging this appointment and that Castor should have listened to the public feedback rather than bullying and attacking Council related to this vote.”

Gudes declined to comment until he’d read the story.

Randy Nelson, a policing expert and professor at Bethune-Cookman University, reviewed the footage posted to the Tampa Police Department’s YouTube channel at the request of the Times. He said it’s particularly important for law enforcement officers to show leadership, given the current political climate and waning trust in police.

”Integrity matters,” he said. “The public should feel that whether you stop me or you stop someone that’s a politician, that they’ll be treated the same.”

Times staff writers Chris Tisch, Tony Marrero, Natalie Weber, Charlie Frago and Matt Cohen contributed to this report.

©2022 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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