TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor resigned from her post, days after the public learned of a traffic stop where she used her rank to get out of a ticket on a golf cart in November in Pinellas County.
O’Connor submitted a letter of resignation on Monday morning, which was accompanied by a report on a Standards investigation into her conduct, shared out by Mayor Jane Castor, who accepted her exit.
According to the Professional Standards Bureau’s Investigation, the traffic stop and the chief’s actions in Pinellas County amounted to misuse of her badge of office and her position to avoid a traffic citation.
O’Connor was interviewed by an investigator on Dec. 3, where she admitted to “violating the Tampa Police Department Manual of Regulations Standard of Conduct and Abuse of Position or Identification,” though she said she had identified herself “for safety.” Still, the chief admitted to investigators that asking to be let off without getting a ticket for the violation was “a mistake.”
During an interview over the weekend, investigators played the body camera footage, then jumped into questions with O’Connor, after reviewing conduct rules for the Tampa Police Department. Video of the interview was provided to WFLA.com on Monday.
The investigation interview
They started off by asking her what she intended by identifying herself as the police chief when the deputy arrived, pausing the video playback to ask for an explanation.
“I think that I made a mistake when I made that statement. I obviously, you know, am a passenger on my own golf cart that I own, that my husband was driving,” O’Connor told investigators. “If we are driving without a tag, we are obviously, we’re, being irresponsible with our golf cart ownership. But, again, I guess I was just asking him if he would consider giving us a warning instead of a citation, that evening.”
The investigator resumed playback, then asked O’Connor why she gave the deputy her business card.
“Captain, I have passed out literally hundreds of business cards since I was appointed as the chief of police,” O’Connor answered. “You know, I pass out the business card because there’s never, there could always be a reason why he would need something in the city. You know, parking, advice on where to go for, there’s so many reasons I would give him my business card, and I’ve given my business cards to hundreds of people. He’s no different.”
The investigator asked if the chief had “intended to give” the deputy “preferential treatment” when telling him to call her if he needed anything. O’Connor said it was not intended to extend a special treatment compared to others who may call her.
When asked about the unregistered golf cart and legal use of one on public roadways, O’Connor told investigators that until this incident, she had not “had much of an understanding.”
Continuing, she said that now “I believe now that the golf cart needs to be registered if it’s going to be out on the public roadway where other motor vehicles are.”
Following the investigation, the report said O’Connor had used her position in a way that was not available to others, to avoid the traffic ticket.
When asked, O’Connor said she told Mayor Jane Castor about the traffic stop on Dec. 1, two days before the interview with detectives. The incident itself occurred on Nov. 12. The detective asked if the chief was aware of policies that “would require a supervisor to be notified when she was involved in an off-duty traffic stop.”
O’Connor told investigators that she was not aware of any such policy. Finally, O’Connor was asked about policies regarding a “strict prohibition” of using a badge or position to avoid consequences of illegal acts.
She said that she had violated that prohibition, but “wanted to state that the conversation with the Pinellas County sheriff was that the golf cart initiative was more educational,” but that if she had gotten a citation, she “did believe that I had tried to avoid that.”
As a result of her off-duty conduct, O’Connor admitted that she had violated the standards of conduct of the Tampa Police Department and other city employees, and that she should have held herself “to the highest of standards to emulate the leadership of the Tampa Police Department, and would not want any of my police officers or anyone below me to expect that they would get some kind of a break because they were a police officer.”
O’Connor said she took responsibility for the situation at hand. A subsequent document summarized the investigation process as follows.
“The Chief of Police is held to the highest standards above their officers. Chief O’Connor used her official position and her badge for obtaining privileges, not otherwise available, in an attempt to avoid the issuance of a traffic citation,” the report reads in part. “These actions compr[om]ised the professionalism, ethics, and objectives of the Police Chief and the City of Tampa.”
As a result, the violation of both the “Standard of Conduct” and “Abuse of Position or Identification” were both sustained by investigators. The report findings were signed off on by acting Chief of Police Lee Bercaw on Dec. 4, and delivered to Castor and John Bennett, chief of staff, on Dec. 5.
For O’Connor’s current role, those “mistakes” culminated in her resignation, Monday morning. after not quite a year in office. O’Connor was sworn in as chief in March of 2022.
What happened in November
On the evening of Nov. 12, O’Connor and her husband were driving in Pinellas County on a golf cart. The golf cart, according to multiple records, was unregistered, meaning it did not have a license plate.
The O’Connors were pulled over by a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy, who recorded the interaction on his body camera.
The camera was noticed by the Tampa police chief, who first asked if it was recording, then when she was given the affirmative, informed the deputy she was the Tampa police chief and showed him her badge. Then, O’Connor said she hoped the deputy would “just let us go tonight.”
When the deputy disengaged, the chief was seen on camera handing him her business card. The deputy ended up simply issuing a verbal warning, according to the record from the investigation.
The body camera footage became public on Dec. 1, leading to a standards investigation beginning the next day.
While the investigation was underway, the police chief was put on administrative leave as the city investigated her for “comprising” her “professionalism and ethics by using her position of authority to solicit the Pinellas Deputy not to issue a citation,” the investigation record showed.
When handing the deputy her business card on the bodycam footage, O’Connor told him, “If you ever need anything, call me. Seriously.”
She told investigators that while giving the deputy a business card was something she did with “hundreds of citizens and law enforcement officers,” it was an action that was “not intended to give the deputy any type of preferential treatment.”
“It is unacceptable for any public employee, and especially the city’s top law enforcement leader, to ask for special treatment because of their position. Public trust in Tampa’s police department is paramount to our success as a city and community,” Castor said about the incident and resignation, in part. “This is especially disappointing because I gave Mary O’Connor a second chance, as I believe in second chances for people. Which is one of the reasons that the disappointment today runs so deep.”