BRADENTON -- A judge will issue his verdict Wednesday in the theft trial of former Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Warren Merriman, after Merriman took the stand Tuesday in his own defense.
Merriman, 44, is being tried on two misdemeanor counts of petty theft. Prosecutors say he submitted hours he had not completed during an off-duty detail, and asked a subordinate to help him with a home project while on duty. A third count was dropped last week.
Senior Circuit Judge Lee Haworth, presiding over the case, will decide the verdict in the non-jury trial.
The allegations against the 17-year veteran became public Sept. 8, 2014, when the city placed Merriman on paid administrative leave from
the Bradenton Police Department. He was formally terminated in January 2015.
Merriman has maintained his innocence. Both Merriman and his wife, Devon Carr Davis, testified Tuesday how they had spent a day in December 2012 building a shed, and that Merriman had called his subordinate, William Knight, to help him with the roof.
"I contacted him because the ceiling aspect was a little more intense," Merriman said.
He had wanted to see if Knight could help him the next day, a Saturday, but Knight had plans.
"He mentioned he was about to get off of work," Merriman said.
Merriman said Knight never made any mention of using any of his paid time off earned for extra hours worked to help Merriman, and that Knight made no mention of being on-duty.
Merriman didn't dispute calling Knight on Feb. 25, 2014, and asking to come over to a Pittsburgh Pirates spring training game so he could get to a tennis match, but said he didn't complete a needed form but had pre-signed it. He first testified that he didn't put an end time because he didn't know what time the off-duty detail would end and then corrected himself, saying it was because he didn't know what time Knight would arrive. Once Knight did arrive, he said, he rushed home to change for his tennis match.
Merriman realized when he got his paycheck from the Pirates that he had been paid for the two hours Knight covered for him.
"I cashed the check and I met with him in the detective hallway and I gave him a 50 and a 20," Merriman said.
During cross examination, Merriman admitting he erred by not calling the watch commander when he left the off-duty detail early.
On Tuesday morning, the State Attorney's Office rested its case after Police Chief Michael Radzilowski testified.
Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend questioned the police chief about when he first learned of the allegations that Merriman had left a detail at McKechnie Field early to go play tennis, having Knight finish his duty.
"Once I received the allegation, I realized the seriousness of those allegations," Radzilowski said. "I immediately ended that conversation and went over and met with Sheriff (Brad) Steube."
Radzilowski then added, "I wanted the deputy chief to have a fair and impartial investigation."
Merriman at the time outranked everyone in the department but Radzilowski, including internal affairs. Radzilowski said he allowed the sheriff's office to take the investigation wherever it would lead, without any interference from him.
During cross examination, defense attorney Brett McIntosh asked the chief why he didn't consider asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to handle the investigation.
"My first thought was to the sheriff's office," Radzilowski said. "I had no reason to doubt their integrity."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.