Florida police chief on leave after flashing badge in golf cart traffic stop

<span>Photograph: Dirk Shadd/AP</span>
Photograph: Dirk Shadd/AP

The police chief of Tampa, Florida, was placed on administrative leave after flashing her badge in an attempt to get out of a traffic stop, the city’s mayor said.

On 12 November, Mary O’Connor and her husband were stopped by a Pinellas county sheriff’s deputy for driving a golf cart without a license plate. Body camera footage showed the officer explaining to the pair why he stopped them.

In the footage, O’Connor asks if the officer’s body camera is on, to which he replies: “It is.”

O’Connor says: “I’m the police chief in Tampa.”

She then shows her police badge.

“Oh, how are you doing?” the officer says, with surprise.

“I’m doing good,” O’Connor says, adding: “I’m hoping you’ll just let us go tonight.”

“Oh, OK,” the officer replies, before letting the couple go. Before driving off, O’Connor can be seen handing her card to the deputy, saying: “If you ever need anything, call me. Seriously.”

On Friday the mayor of Tampa, Jane Castor, announced that O’Connor “has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a recent traffic stop”.

Castor added: “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.

“Chief O’Connor has voluntarily reached out to the Tampa Police Professional Standards Bureau asking to receive the same discipline that any officer would receive for similar conduct.”

O’Connor issued a public apology, saying: “It was poor judgment on our part to be driving a golf cart on a public roadway without the appropriate tags.

“In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent … I have personally called the Pinellas county sheriff, offering to pay for any potential citation.

“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.”

Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said O’Connor should not be allowed to return as police chief.

“Had that been an African American person … that person would have been handcuffed, sat on the side of the road, frisked and held there and taken to jail,” Lewis said. “The suspension was the right step and honestly, I don’t think she should be allowed to come back to hold that position.”