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Possible theft of money within Bradenton Police Department under investigation

Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan ttompkins@bradenton.com

A criminal investigation into possible theft of money within the Bradenton Police Department is underway.

The investigation became public last week during a Bradenton mayoral debate between Mayor Wayne Poston and challengers Warren Merriman and Eleuterio Salazar.

On Wednesday, Police Chief Melanie Bevan issued a statement in response to the investigation being brought up at the debate by Merriman, who was fired from his position as deputy police chief in January 2015.

The existence of the investigation was revealed Sept. 15 by Bradenton mayoral candidate Warren Merriman during a debate sponsored by the Manatee Tiger Bay Club. Merriman, a former Bradenton deputy police chief, was fired in January 2015 and later found guilty of theft.

“Recent inaccurate and irresponsible verbal and written comments presented by candidates seeking political office in Bradenton are fueling numerous inquiries into what I am making clear today is an ongoing active criminal investigation,” Bevan wrote. “These individuals’ comments also call into question the integrity and ethics of the Bradenton Police Department by casting doubt on our ability to effectively identify and investigate incidents of criminal misconduct.”

Bevan went on to write that she was hired to handle similar investigations, in addition to all police services the department provides the city.

“This investigation was initiated before the onset of our local political season, and will proceed in due course and in accordance with all the rules of law until such time the matter is brought before the court,” Bevan wrote. “Transparency stands as one of BPD’s organizational values, and I am certain that upon release of all details surrounding this investigation, our citizens will maintain their confidence in BPD as a competent, full-service police agency that stands ready to service it’s community.”

Recent inaccurate and irresponsible verbal and written comments presented by candidates seeking political office in Bradenton are fueling numerous inquiries into what I am making clear today is an ongoing active criminal investigation.

Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan

Merriman challenged the police department’s transparency Wednesday.

“Approximately 150 days ago, Chief Bevan informed elected city officials that there was an investigation but she failed to disclose that to the general public which I find concerning in regards to the accreditation lapse never being publicly disclosed,” Merriman said. “So I believed there is a transparency issue regarding the city of Bradenton Police Department.”

Poston said the outing of the investigation was political, and he declined further comment.

In July 2015, the Bradenton Police Department’s state accreditation was allowed to lapse after then-Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said he decided to start the process over in preparation of a change of leadership after he announced he would be retiring. Radzilowski had said he hoped this would allow the department to identify any areas where improvements were possible and assure the confidence of a new chief and the community.

The Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation told the Bradenton Herald in October 2015 that it had no concerns regarding the department’s decision to opt out of the process, adding that many departments choose not to participate in the optional process yet are professionally run agencies.

Since the lapse, the Bradenton Police Department has reapplied for state accreditation.

Radzilowski said Wednesday he didn’t have any knowledge of the current investigation within the Bradenton Police Department.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

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