BRADENTON -- Maintaining his innocence Saturday afternoon, Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Warren Merriman released the results of a polygraph test that he said supports his claim that he was truthful when he said he was asked for his resignation in exchange for the charges against him being dropped by the city.
Merriman, a 17-year veteran with the police department, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of petit theft on Oct. 23 after weeks of investigation. He is charged with submitting hours not completed during off-duty details and asking a subordinate to help him with a home project while on-duty.
Results of the polygraph were distributed Saturday, and they reported that the probability that Merriman had been deceptive was less than 1 percent when he said he was
asked by Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski to resign in exchange for the dropped charges.
"This is all part of a professional public-relations campaign to divert attention from the main issue, the deputy chief's alleged conduct that is being prosecuted by the state attorney's office," Radzilowski said in a telephone conversation late Saturday. "He has a polygraph that doesn't ask the pertinent questions."
Merriman said the polygraph does not address anything having to do with the charges against him since it was an open case.
The investigation into allegations against Merriman became public Sept. 8 when the city placed him on paid administrative leave. Because Merriman's rank places him over the department's internal affairs department, Radzilowski asked the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to handle the investigation.
A week ago, Merriman broke his silence to speak out about a meeting he had with Radzilowski in the days leading up to the charges being filed. During the Oct. 15 meeting, Merriman said Radzilowski asked him to resign in exchange for all the charges against him being dropped.
Radzilowski had a different account of the meeting that occurred behind closed doors in his office. He confirmed the two had met and had discussed Merriman's options, including resigning, but said that he never offered to drop charges.
On Thursday, Merriman submitted to a polygraph administered by James Orr, a polygraph examiner with Tampa Examiner's Services and a retired FBI agent.
Polygraph testimony is admissible in court by stipulation in 19 states. Its use, however, remains controversial. For example, in some states, polygraph examiners are permitted to testify before judges in various types of cases, while the results themselves may be inadmissible as evidence.
Friend, local businessman and Realtor Barry Grooms spoke on Merriman's behalf Saturday afternoon at a press conference in downtown Bradenton.
"I want to know why you can accuse an officer, a decorated officer such as deputy chief Merriman, of such petty items and the entire department blows up and contracts the sheriff's office for answers," Grooms said. "But when something more heinous, such as a chief asks a man to give up his livelihood -- how he supports his family, the legacy he has created -- and we don't have any answers and haven't heard one word about it, that's the question I want answered: 'Why?'"
Grooms added that he felt the investigation has become a personal attack and an assassination of Merriman's character. Grooms called on Mayor and Police Commissioner Wayne Poston and Radzilowski to provide answers.
"I think questions that have been raised through this investigation, I think have raised more questions about the chief's character," Grooms said.
Radzilowski said he still doesn't not know the nuts and bolts of the investigation, since he has allowed the sheriff's office to handle it.
"The IA report will be done in a couple weeks and when I get it, it will be made public," he said.
Meanwhile, he added, it is like ignoring the pink elephant in the room.
"Warren, who was in internal affairs and has done lots of these investigations," Radzilowski said, "he knows the game better than I do; he knows we can't comment."
Although he reiterated it was just a public-relations campaign, Radzilowski said he understood.
"I wish the deputy chief and his family well," he said. "I am keeping an open mind."
Calls to Mayor Poston and the state's attorney were not returned Saturday.
Merriman's wife Devon Carr Davis, daughter Alexa Carr, and other supporters stood around the deputy chief holding signs demanding justice.
"He has not lied," Carr Davis said. "We want to thank all our friends, supporters and family."
Merriman said the results of the polygraph would be provided to the sheriff's office and to the state attorney's office.
"We want answers and we want answers now," Grooms said. "There are investigations going on right now at affairs investigation and throughout Manatee County and the City of Bradenton that should take far more precedent that this ever would. The results and the charges don't match the actual resources being put into this, which are my tax dollars and your tax dollars."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.