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Once charged with battery on a cop, debate emerges over pick for Tampa's next police chief

Mary O'Connor was named chief of police on Feb. 8. City Council still has not confirmed the appointment. We look at both sides of the conversation about her.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced Mary O'Connor as her pick for Tampa's 43rd chief of police on Feb. 8. She would be the second woman hired for the role behind only the mayor herself in 2009.

Since then, there's been some controversy and skepticism about the selection. Not one city council member spoke in favor of the decision at their meeting on Feb. 17.

Some of the issues council members brought up included a lack of community involvement in the decision and disappointment about O'Connor getting the top spot over Ruben "Butch" Delgado who had been the interim chief the last few months.

Another sticking point brought up by council and community members at the meeting was O'Connor's arrest in 1995.

What happened in 1995?

10 Tampa Bay could not find any documentation surrounding Chief O'Connor's incident on May 26, 1995. Public records staff at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's office did not have any records on file.

We were able to get some insight into that early morning arrest from our own 10 Tampa Bay archives.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies pulled over a vehicle after they noticed a car weaving and hitting the median on Bearss Avenue.

The driver, Keith O'Connor failed a field sobriety test and was charged with DUI. A woman named Mary Minter, the police chief's name at the time, was the passenger in the car.

“He had a female companion who became very belligerent when our deputies were conducting the DUI investigation," said Jack Espinosa, the former Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesperson. "Finally we had to put her in the back seat. She was profane. She was waving. She was also highly intoxicated.”

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Mary Minter, authorities said at the time, kicked the back of the vehicle, swung her fists and hit one of the deputies. She was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, obstruction, and disorderly intoxication.

“We have a couple of young officers who have their whole career ahead of them and get in this kind of trouble so it’s very disturbing and especially going into Memorial weekend when we’re telling people not to drink and drive." said Steve Cole, the former Tampa Police Department spokesperson.

According to published reports, she was suspended from TPD but was later reinstated.

Chief in 2022

Twenty-eight years later, Mary O'Connor has been chosen by the mayor to be the top cop in Florida's third largest city.

Anthony Gonzalez, a criminal defense attorney who was born and raised in Tampa, was hoping Ruben Delgado would get the job.

"I’m a believer in second chances, right? But I also believe the position she was applying for may not warrant her getting that position for that very charge because what does her rank and file think about that," said Gonzalez, who also thought Delgado would have added needed diversity to the city's key leadership positions.

Simon Canasi, a retired stockbroker and well-known Tampa businessman, said he's supportive of Castor's decision to make O'Connor chief despite originally hoping Delgado would get the job.

"We have a mayor who once was the chief of police and well-versed in what it takes to be the chief of police and who am I to question why she picked one over the other," said Canasi, who met with O'Connor a few weeks ago and said he found her to be engaging and forthright.

"I try to judge people by not one incident but the totality of their life, and by that I believe Mary O’Connor deserves an opportunity to prove herself and I think she will," he said.

What will council do?

Technically Mary O'Connor isn't officially the Tampa Police Chief until city council confirms the appointment through a vote. In the meantime, she's already doing the job.

Credit: Tampa.gov

Tampa City Council could vote as early as this Thursday March 3 or it could get postponed to the next regular meeting on March 17. If city council votes against the confirmation, Mayor Jane Castor can choose to resubmit Mary O'Connor as the nomination or put forth a new candidate. 

It's unclear what would happen after that; but council and Mayor Castor could find themselves in a deadlocked position if that cycle continues.

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