TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa's top cop has been placed on administrative leave after body camera footage revealed her showing her badge during a traffic stop with her husband and asking a Pinellas deputy to "let us go."
The city released the following statement Friday afternoon:
"Police Chief Mary O'Connor has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a recent traffic stop. Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw is serving as acting Chief."
According to investigators, Mary O'Connor and her husband were riding in a golf cart without a license plate outside a residential area in Oldsmar on November 12. They were outside of a golf cart-friendly neighborhood when they were stopped. The deputy's body camera was rolling during the encounter.
In the video, the deputy explains to the couple that they were pulled over for driving an unlicensed vehicle without the tag on it on the roadway. O'Connor is also seen showing her badge.
"Is your camera on?" she asked.
"It is," the deputy said.
"I'm the police chief in Tampa," O'Connor stated.
"Oh, how are you doing?"
"I'm doing good…I'm hoping you'll just let us go tonight."
Moments later, the deputy is heard saying, "Alright, well, take care and it was nice meeting you."
Then O'Connor handed the deputy her business card.
"If you need anything call me," she said.
Mayor Castor, who appointed O'Connor earlier this year, said Thursday the behavior is unacceptable and that the chief would face disciplinary action.
O'Connor released a statement after the video was released, saying her actions were a result of "poor judgment" to have been driving on a public road without appropriate tags. She said she realized her handling of it could be viewed as inappropriate.
"It was poor judgment on our part to be driving a golf cart on a public roadway without the appropriate tags. This was the first time we had exited the golf-cart friendly community in which we own property with this vehicle, prompting the need for a license plate," 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."
She added, "I have expressed great remorse to the mayor, and I apologize to the residents of Tampa who have a reasonable expectation of better judgment from their chief of police. As someone who has dealt with, taken ownership of and grown from my past mistakes, I know that no one is above the law, including me."
Former TPD Chief Brian Dugan told FOX 13, "As chief of police you're held to a higher standard. To say I'm disappointed is an understatement."
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera stated, "What I have seen so far is very disappointing and distressing. This demands transparency with the Administration on all that happened and accountability if the investigation makes adverse findings. The detailed investigation should be as expeditious as possible so we can have a prompt resolution and move forward. Our police officers and the city they serve and protect deserve nothing less."
City Councilman Bill Carlson told FOX 13 that O'Connor's actions during the traffic stop were embarrassing for police officers who work hard and do the right thing. He added that he expects O'Connor to resign soon.
"This mayor has so many problems right now besides this, I can’t imagine that she’s going to want to deal with this very long so I imagine that she’ll resign at some point," Carlson stated. "But it’s ultimately up to the mayor to decide that."
Mary O'Connor's career with TPD
O’Connor was appointed Chief of Police this year by mayor and former TPD Chief Jane Castor. The two worked together at TPD for more than a decade. Since her appointment, controversy was built up among city councilors and the public leading up to the council's vote to approve the nomination.
O’Connor’s past has also been called into question. In 1995, she was fired from the department after she was charged with punching a Hillsborough County Deputy during a DUI stop that involved her eventual husband.
During her time with the police department, O’Connor dedicated the first 22 years of her career to serving Tampa and the people who call it home. She worked her way through the Tampa Police Department and retired as the Assistant Chief in 2016.
After, she spent the next five years sharing lessons learned with agencies across the country through her work with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association.
"I knew from a young age that this was my calling," O'Connor said after she was 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 touch on O'Connor's controversial past when FOX 13 reached out to him on Friday, He stated, "When we interviewed her, she said what happened in the past is in the past, and it won’t happen again, and so I’m surprised that something similar happened again because she promised us that it wouldn’t… Then asked for a favor, and at the end gave her business card and said if you need something, let me know seriously which implies special privilege for certain people and I don’t think that represents the hard-working men and women of our police force. Our police force is very honest, and hard-working. Our police force has mostly hard-working people who want to be respected, and this whole thing is not fair to them"