Body cam footage shows Tampa police chief using position to get out of traffic violation

"I'm the police chief from Tampa, I'm hoping that you'll just let us go tonight."

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click to enlarge Body cam footage shows Tampa police chief using position to get out of traffic violation
Screengrab via CL/YouTube
Body camera video first obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay shows that Tampa Police Chief Mary O'Connor used her status as police chief to get out of a traffic stop.

On Nov. 12 around 7:25 p.m., O'Connor and her husband Keith—who is Tampa's code enforcement manager—were pulled over by Pinellas County Sheriff Deputy at East Lake Road and Woodlands Parkway in Oldsmar. They were driving a golf cart on the road without a license plate, and Deputy Larry Jacoby responded to the scene to check on the situation, according to an incident detail report.

"Is your camera on?" O'Connor asks Jacoby, as he approaches the golf cart. Jacoby confirms that it is. O'Connor begins pulling out her police chief badge. 

"I'm the police chief from Tampa," O'Connor says.

"Oh how you doing?" Jacoby says.

"I'm hoping that you'll just let us go tonight," O'Connor replies.

Jacoby mentions that he thinks he recognizes O'Connor and lets the couple go, after shaking O'Connor's hand. Near the end of the exchange, she hands him her card. "If you ever need anything call me—serious," she tells Jacoby.

"Oh, alright, appreciate that," he responds.

"Have a good night," O'Connor said. They then both said "thank you for your service," and that it was nice to meet each other.
Today, CL obtained the video following weeks of targeted public records requests. This afternoon, when providing the video and associated documentation, CL was told by PCSO "you are the first to receive it all." Also this afternoon, O'Connor sent an email announcing what had happened and apologized to her staff.

She started by writing, "I want you to hear it from me first prior to news stories circulating."

"This was the first time we had ever taken the golf cart onto a public roadway, prompting the need for a license plate," O'Connor added. "During our conversation with the deputy, which I knew was being recorded on body-worn camera, I use poor judgment by noting my position at the Tampa Police Department and asking him for forgiveness for our mistake."

"In hindsight, I realize that conversation could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent," O'Connor continued. "I'm very remorseful that this incident ever occurred, and I've personally called the Pinellas County Sheriff Office offering to pay for any potential citation. I've also apologized to the mayor and I would like to apologize to you employees of our police department as well."

In her email to staff, O'Connor said she's reached out to TPD's Professional Standards Bureau and asked for the same discipline that any officer would receive for similar conduct.

Aside from any potential reprimand at TPD, driving a vehicle on a roadway without a license is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

PCSO has not responded to the question of whether Deputy Jacoby will be reprimanded. During the stop, the officer let the O'Connors go without checking if they were inebriated.

This isn't the first time O'Connor had a run in with a sheriff deputy. O'Connor's appointment by Mayor Jane Castor was controversial due to her 1995 felony arrest for assault on a fellow law enforcement officer.

In that incident, O'Connor, then named Mary E. Minter, was in the passenger seat when her future husband and fellow Tampa police officer Keith Michael O'Connor was pulled over on suspicion of DUI by a Hillsborough County Sheriff deputy. Keith was charged with drunk driving, but deputies said O'Connor kicked the windows and punched a deputy when she was put in the back seat of a patrol car.

The future police chief was charged with assault on an officer, obstruction and disorderly intoxication.
Because of this incident and the lack of transparency in Castor's search for police chief, several council people had concerns about appointing O'Connor to chief.

After Castor selected her to lead the department, O'Connor said she believed in second chances. It's unclear if O'Connor will get another chance after this, but in a statement, Castor 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."

Councilman Bill Carlson said November's traffic stop confirms concerns that he and other council people had.

"This proves that 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," he said.

O'Connor and Castor were also among officers who oversaw the controversial policing program "Biking while Black," and O'Connor was a high ranking officer at TPD during a crime-free multi housing program, which disproportionately evicted Black renters.

Just this week, O'Connor was in the news over other body camera-related issues after she and TPD body camera provider Axon found themselves at odds over tracking the  controversial mute function installed by O'Connor.

This is a developing post.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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