Former Bradenton police sergeant Leonel Marines was suspended for three days without pay in 2012, after the first time he was caught misusing police databases and his badge to target women for dates or to have sex with them, according to internal affairs records.
The pattern of abuse would continue for six years before another internal affairs investigation would fully reveal the scope of his abuse, which is now the subject of an FBI investigation, Police Chief Melanie Bevan said Thursday.
During those six years, Marines abused his access to information to target a minimum of 150 women for dates or to have sex with them, sometimes while on duty, Bevan revealed during a news conference.
Marines, a 12-year veteran, resigned Oct. 30 amid the internal affairs investigation, which is concluded. The FBI is now investigating whether Marines violated federal laws, Bevan said.
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Internal affairs investigators found that Marines, 36, had sex while on duty, one of several findings sustained against him.
Marines’ wrongdoing dates back to at least an incident in November 2011 that led to a complaint filed in March 2012.
At the time, a woman told police that Marines had shown up at her home on several occasions, asking her personal questions that seemed unrelated to any police investigation and she didn’t know him personally, according to the 2012 internal affairs report. The woman added that she didn’t know how Marines had gotten her personal information and that she had asked that he not come back.
When an audit was done of Marines’ access to the Driver and Vehicle Information Database, known as D.A.V.I.D., investigators found that Marines had accessed the woman’s driver’s license information twice, on Nov. 23, 2011, and March 14, 2012.
When questioned by the internal affairs investigator why he had accessed her information, Marines said “that there was no particular reason, that they had mutual friends and it was out curiosity.”
Marines was also questioned about why he had accessed the driver’s license information of eight other people, as revealed by the same audit. According to the report, Marines claimed that he didn’t recognize any of them and couldn’t remember if it was in connection to any case but that he had “no physical contact” with any of them.
The investigator concluded Marines never had any verbal or physical contact with any of the eight people, noting that he “contacted or attempted to contact” each of them in the five days that followed the interview with Marines.
Less than a month after police received the complaint, the internal affairs investigation was closed with one sustained finding of misuse of criminal justice information.
On Thursday, Chief Bevan detailed how Marines used law enforcement databases and then social media, phone calls or in-person visits to the women’s homes to pursue women. At times he was successful, Bevan said on Thursday, in dating these women.
Marines’ actions have cast a dark shadow on law enforcement, Bevan said, and broken the trust of the department and of the public.
A majority of the women Marines targeted were Hispanic, and many did not speak English, according to Bevan.
“As the investigation continued and egregious nature of his actions became more and more apparent, he was ultimately placed on administrative leave without pay and stripped of his badge, guns and uniforms,” Bevan said. “Had Marines not resigned he would have been fired.”
The most recent investigation of Marines started in June 2018 when one of the women and her parents filed a complaint. According to the chief, Marines had a brief encounter with the woman in the parking lot of a local business and then followed her to her parents’ home. He knocked on the door claiming he needed to speak to the younger woman regarding a domestic incident.
Her parents knew that she was not involved in any domestic incident, and immediately questioned his intentions and refused to let Marines speak to their daughter, Bevan said. Marines tried to insist but they refused further and asked for his name and supervisor’s information.
Despite leaving the home without giving that information, the parents immediately called the Bradenton Police Department and spoke to the on-duty watch commander, who was able to identify Marines as the officer in question. But when questioned, Marines gave a starkly different account, claiming that he had followed the woman home because her taillight was out and that he suspected she was impaired, Bevan said.
“Ultimately, we were able to locate and interview nearly 150 women in association with this case,” Bevan said.
It took five investigators thousands of hours to mine all the data involved and locate and interview the women. An audit of his use of driver license and vehicle registration records, as well as of his patrol activity, found several hundred questionable database queries, and a trend of focusing on women versus men.
“Our internal investigation was recently closed with a finding of numerous administrative violations involving gross misconduct to include misuse of criminal justice information, violation of our record security policy and sex on duty,” Bevan said.
The FBI asked police to withhold release of the latest internal affairs report on Marines, in order to not interfere with its criminal investigation. Bevan would not speculate on possible federal charges Marines might face, but the FBI’s jurisdiction includes investigation of civil rights violations by law enforcement.
Bevan said there may be more victims, which is why police released a photograph of Marines. Anyone with information can call the Tampa office of the FBI at 813-253-1000.
A video Spanish translation of Bevan’s statement during Thursday’s news conference was released by police in order to help reach more potential victims.