BRADENTON -- Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Warren Merriman maintained his innocence Saturday on three misdemeanor charges, saying that his boss, Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, asked him in a private meeting to resign in exchange for the city dropping those charges.
Radzilowski was "asking me to resign my position with the Bradenton Police Department. In exchange for my resignation, all charges would be dropped by the city of Bradenton," Merriman told the Bradenton Herald on Saturday.
Merriman, a 17-year veteran with the department, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of petit theft on Thursday afternoon. He is accused of submitting hours not completed during off-duty details and asking a subordinate to assist him in a home project while on-duty.
Radzilowski, while confirming that he had met with Merriman before the charges were officially filed, said Saturday that he discussed Merriman's options but denied offering to drop charges.
The investigation into allegations against Merriman became public Sept. 8 when he was placed on paid administrative leave. Because of Merriman's rank and position over the agency's internal affairs department, Radzilowski asked the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to handle the investigation.
After remaining silent for two months during the investigation, Merriman agreed to meet with the Bradenton Herald on Saturday just outside city hall. He recounted his version of meeting with Radzilowski concerning the potential outcomes of the investigation. On Oct. 15, Merriman said, he was called at home and was told to report to the chief's office. He said upon arrival, the door was closed, and Radzilowski asked him how he and his family were holding up, before proceeding.
"Then he came to the matter of asking me to resign my position with the Bradenton Police Department," Merriman said Saturday. "I replied to him, 'No, an innocent man will not resign his employment based on false allegations made against him. And any resignation would forfeit any right after the criminal case of having a future in law enforcement because we all know when someone resigns their position based on allegations, the opinion of community is going to be that he was guilty.'"
Just days before, Merriman said, the State Attorney's Office had notified Merriman they were considering charging him with two petit theft charges and offered him the opportunity for a pre-trial intervention program. Merriman said he refused.
"I said, 'Chief, as far as I know, the state was looking at two criminal charges,'" Merriman said. "And then he said, 'Oh no, that was under pre-trial intervention offers; now they are going to charge you with six to seven criminal offenses.'
"I felt he was more or less compelling me to resign," Merriman said.
"I did have a conversation with him (Merriman) about what his options were," Radzilowski said Saturday. But he disputed having any direct contact with the State Attorney's Office. "I have been out and not involved with this from the very beginning."
The offer to resign is routine, Radzilowski said in a later telephone interview Saturday.
"We offer everybody in an internal affairs investigation the opportunity to resign," Radzilowski said. "The only person who can drop charges is the state attorney."
Merriman said he felt the investigation was unfair because of conversations between the police chief and the prosecutor in the case without consulting Merriman's attorney.
"The biggest problem with this issue is: Lon Arend, he is the chief assistant state attorney, second in command to Ed Brodsky, was in collusion with the vity of Bradenton without notifying my legal counsel," Merriman said. "The sheriff's office knew I had legal counsel."
Merriman said he is compiling a defense team, including his attorney Matthew Whyte.
Reached on Saturday, Whyte said he could not comment on the case.
Merriman reiterated he is not being afforded the same treatment as other officers investigated because his attorney was precluded from those conversations.
"I will be making an ethics complaint against Lon Arend with the Florida Bar because I believe his actions were unethical by not contacting my legal counsel, and I was compelled to come to the chief's office based on the police of administrative leave," Merriman said. "It was like the chief of police was the messenger between the collusion of the city and the state attorney."
State Attorney Ed Brodsky said he was surprised to hear of the claims. "That is news to me," Brodsky said Saturday.
Ethically, Brodsky said he was prohibited from discussing the case while it is ongoing.
"One of the things that I think would be interesting is that if there is a court hearing, I think those topics may come up," Brodsky said, referring to conversations between the police chief and the prosecutor, and because those conversations did not include Merriman's lawyer. "And I am not saying that those things did or did not happen."
Speaking generally, Brodsky said it is common for conversations to be held with an involved party to see what sort of outcome they are hoping for.
"That's all routine; we are going to reach out to the victim, the aggrieved or complainant," Brodsky said.
Merriman's wife, Devon Carr-Davis, stood by the officer's side Saturday in support as they spoke of the manner in which the investigation has been handled. Daughter Alexa Carr was also present.
"I have no doubt in mind that he is innocent," Carr-Davis said. "These charges, they are so outrageous."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.