Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor has been placed on administrative leave after she and her husband were pulled over by a Pinellas County deputy for driving a golf cart without a license plate tag last month, KTLA sister station WFLA reports.
During the stop, the police chief also flashed her badge for the deputy, before suggesting that he just “let us go tonight,” as seen in the deputy’s body-camera footage.
Chief O’Connor will be on administrative leave until further notice, pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor confirmed.
Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw will serve as acting chief in the meantime, Castor said.
O’Connor and her husband were stopped by a Pinellas County deputy outside of an Oldsmar neighborhood on Nov. 12. O’Connor was captured on body camera video asking if the deputy’s camera was on.
“It is,” the duty responded.
O’Connor then said, “I’m the police chief in Tampa,” before flashing her badge.
“I’m hoping you’ll just let us go tonight,” she said.
The deputy said he thought he recognized O’Connor, who has been chief of the department since February 2022.
In response to the incident, O’Connor released a statement acknowledging her behavior, which “could be viewed as inappropriate,” she wrote.
“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,” O’Connor said, in part.
Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson said O’Connor’s actions are a violation of basic ethics training.
“[What we’re taught in] ethics training in government, Ethics 101, is don’t use your position to get any kind of special favors. You’re taught in particular not to mention your title or your position to try and convince anyone of anything and so it’s not a good idea to do that,” said Carlson.
He said he believes O’Connor should — and will — resign.
“I imagine that the police chief will resign from this. I don’t know, but I imagine. It’s embarrassing for her, it’s embarrassing for the mayor,” said Carlson.
Yvette Lewis, the president of the NAACP of Hillsborough County, was opposed to O’Connor’s hiring as police chief and said this incident shows she was given special treatment that others would not receive.
“Had that been an African American person, let’s say that, that person would have been handcuffed, sat on the side of the road, frisked and held there and taken to jail,” said Lewis, who also believes O’Connor should not return as police chief.
“The suspension was the right step and honestly, I don’t think she should be allowed to come back to hold that position,” said Lewis.
Late Friday, the Tampa Police department issued a statement on the situation, saying: “In light of Mayor Castor’s decision to place Chief Mary O’Connor on leave as the Professional Standards Bureau completes its review of an off-duty traffic stop, the department will continue operating with Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw serving as Acting Chief of Police. We have full confidence that all members of the Tampa Police Department will continue with their duties to serve the citizens of Tampa with the highest level of professionalism. The findings of the internal review will be made available upon completion.”