BRADENTON -- Former Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Warren Merriman has been ordered to serve three months probation after being found guilty of one count of petit theft for submitting hours he did not work during an off-duty detail at McKechnie Field, but had a subordinate cover so he could go to a tennis match.
Merriman, 44, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of petit theft for submitting hours for off-duty details he didn't work. He also had a subordinate help him with a home project while on duty. A third charge of petit theft was dropped last week.
Senior Circuit Judge Lee E. Haworth ruled Wednesday after Merriman gave up his right to a jury trial.
Knight came to his home to help him build a shed, Knight told him he was getting off work. He also said they he never filled out the hours on payroll sheet for the off-duty detail at McKechnie Field, but had presigned the form.
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When Merriman realized he had been paid for the two hours covered by Knight, he said, he met with Knight and paid him cash for those hours.
Haworth found Merriman guilty of one count of petit theft. He sentenced him to three months probation, ordered him to pay court costs and the cost of prosecution and withheld the conviction from his record.
Merriman, who insisted he was innocent, immediately reported to the probation office in the judicial center after the trial. Outside, he avoided reporters by walking away with his family.
Defense attorney Brett McIntosh said he respected Merriman for fighting the charges instead of taking an easy way out.
"I respect the court's decision and, of course, he respects the court's decision," McIntosh said.
The outcome was pleasing and a disappointment, he added.
"The good news is he leaves here today without a conviction on his record," McIntosh said. "... So Mr. Merrriman, who has contributed so much good to this community, so much effort in 20 years of service, will leave here today disappointed, but I think he can hold his head up that he stood up for himself."
Haworth found the state had not met its burden of proof on the second count, referred to as the "shed incident."
"There are troubling conflicts in the evidence in that event," Haworth said.
Overall, he found too many inconsistencies, he said.
He was convinced by the "tennis incident," Haworth said.
"This is a different count altogether," Haworth said, adding there was compelling evidence. "He was complicit."
Haworth said the case was not about a lot of money. The state's position was it was the principle of what the high-ranking officer had done.
"If this occurred between a patrol officer and a sergeant, it may have been handled internally," Haworth said.
This case involved a deputy chief who had written department policies and procedures, he said.
Haworth allowed attorneys only 30 minutes to prepare for sentencing after announcing his verdict.
"This thing has been going on long enough," he said.
Prosecutor Lon Arend presented a negotiated sentencing recommendation to Haworth.
After cautioning the attorneys their agreement was only a recommendation, Haworth agreed it was a fair sentence.
"I am kind of sorry it came to this for everybody's sake," Haworth said. "But the law's the law."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.