Tampa mayor chooses new police chief, critics point to double standard with past felony assaults | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Justin Garcia

Mary O’Connor speaks at a press conference announcing her new role as Chief of Police alongside Deputy Chief Lee Bercaw and Mayor Castor.

Mayor Jane Castor named Mary O’Connor as the new chief of the Tampa Police Department (TPD) today, despite O’Connor’s past arrest on a felony charge of assaulting a fellow police officer.

At a morning press conference at TPD headquarters, Castor said she had “done a very thorough search” to find a chef, but O’Connor stood out from the other finalists: deputy chef Ruben “Butch Delgado, who has been acting chief since Brian Dugan retired in September — and Miami Police Department Deputy Chief Cherise Gause.

Many outside saw Delgado as a lock in becoming for the new leader; instead, he will serve as deputy chief alongside 25-year-old TPD veterinarian Lee Bercaw. The city council still has to approve Castor’s choice.

“We had three outstanding candidates for the position of Chief of Police. But in the final analysis, it was Mary O’Connor who stood out because she brings the best of both worlds,” Castor said. “She brings knowledge of the Tampa Police Department and our community and she also brings an outside perspective.”

O’Connor is no stranger to TPD, where she served for 22 years and rose through the ranks to become deputy police chief, before retiring in 2016.

In 1995, a year after joining the TPD, O’Connor was arrested for assault on a Hillsborough County sheriff’s officer, a felony, as well as obstruction and disorderly intoxication, both misdemeanors.

During the incident, she was driving with her husband, Keith O’Connor, who was driving while intoxicated. An HCSO officer saw him bouncing off a median in his black Isuzu rodeo before he was pulled over. According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, Mary O’Connor, then 24, was also drunk and refused to cooperate. When she was placed in the back seat of a patrol car, deputies said she kicked the windows and punched a deputy in the chest and shoulder as he tried to calm her down. Six deputies intervened on the scene to detain her.

A Tampa Tribune article called the incident a “drunk brawl”.

But the violent incident didn’t stop Castor from choosing O’Connor. “Mary O’Connor bleeds like me,” she said.

In 1996, O’Connor was rehired with “last chance” status, just seven months after the violent incident. His charges had been dropped. After spending the rest of his career evolving in the department, O’Connor told the Tampa Bay Times that she retired in 2016 to focus on her life as a mother. But she immediately went back to work. On the pass five year, she worked as a consultant for police departments on the other side the country. O’Connor says she helped improve the department vscommunity reports, and enforce proof based preserve the order like a department of Justicespecial matter expert, and like a coach with the FBI.

When asked at the press conference how she would discipline officers as a leader given her background, O’Connor told reporters: “discipline must be imposed in a fair and impartial manner” and “I wholeheartedly believe in second chances.”

Bernice Lauredan of the Dream Defenders, a group that organizes against government corruption in Florida, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that discipline for officers like O’Connor is different from how others are treated.

“I think it’s very clear that a black civilian would have been punished more severely for battery on a LEO,” Lauredan explained. “Mary should be held accountable for her violent behavior.”

Lauredan went to say she hopes the new police chief doesn’t criminalize blackness or poverty in the Tampa community.

Michelle Lambo, a Tampa defense attorney, said she was “shocked” by O’Connor’s selection. Lambo represented Jamie Bullock, a BLM protester who was ambushed by TPD officers during a peaceful march and charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer, despite no evidence of the crime. The charges disrupted Bullock’s life for more than a year until, citing lack of evidence, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges.

“O’Connor was sworn to serve and protect and if that’s how she behaved when her fellow officers tried to clear the streets from a drunk driver then he’s just amazing that she was selected,” Lambo said. “I don’t care how skilled she is.”

Lambo said that while she believed in second chances, the fact that O’Connor assaulted fellow officers and was not permanently removed from the force was another appalling aspect of the story for her.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay has reached out to O’Connor for additional comment and will update this story if it comes back to us.

Meanwhile in Tampa, for years, black citizens were deported before being convicted of a crime under the now abandoned Beaver crime-free multi-housing program, which O’Connor also oversaw. when she was Deputy Chief and Deputy Chief. O’Connor was also an assistant chief in the service of Chief Castor at the time when another controversial program, “cycling in black” that targeted black cyclists in Tampa, came to light.

At today’s press conference, O’Connor said that since leaving TPD, traveling across the country advising other police departments has only increased his appreciation for the police department. .

“I can tell you without a doubt that TPD is the best department in the country,” O’Connor said. “…But like everything, we always have room to grow.”

Asked about recent problems with TPD, like the crime-free multi-housing debacle, the lack of power of the police Citizens Review Board and past controversies like the bike in black, O’Connor laid the blame of the community to express themselves.

“I believe everyone should come to the table and voice their concerns,” she said.

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