BRADENTON -- A tentative date for the misdemeanor theft trial of former Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Warren Merriman has been set for the week of December 7.
The decision was made by Judge Lee Haworth, who covered for Circuit Court Judge Mark Singer at a motion hearing Monday that lasted close to two hours and saw multiple witnesses take the stand.
Merriman, 43, is charged with three misdemeanor counts of petty theft. 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.
The allegations against the 17-year Bradenton police veteran became public Sept. 8, 2014, when the city placed him on paid administrative leave. Merriman, who is being represented by Brett D. McIntosh, has maintained his innocence.
The witnesses called to the stand Monday by Assistant State Attorney Heather Doyle, included Christy Habony, a human resources manager for the city of Bradenton; Bradenton Police Lt. Brian Thiers; and Jacob Zaagman and Joseph Schmitz, two city employees who testified they helped Merriman take an online exam while all three were still on duty.
According to Zaagman's testimony, which the state hoped would prove Merriman's motive and intent, he and Schmitz helped Merriman take an online exam for Saint Leo University. Zaagman, the then-parking and property supervisor for the city of Bradenton, said he helped answer at least 20 or more questions.
"I felt really pressured to just do it and be a team player and help him out. It was kind of awkward but it's just one of those moments that you have to decide if you're going to help him or not -- I guess, I don't know," Zaagman said. "I did feel uncomfortable helping him do it but again, he's the deputy chief. What are you supposed to, tell him no?"
Afterwards, Zaagman said he sent Merriman two text messages asking how they did on the exam.
"He sent me a picture of the screen that said he got like a 90 or something on the test," Zaagman said. "He said 'Boom we got a 90.'"
Zaagman said Merriman and his wife, Devon Carr-Davis, took him and Schmitz to Geckos the following Monday for lunch.
"It wasn't until after the fact that, yes, the decision I made was questionable," Schmitz said during his testimony. "It started to occur to me. ... 'oh yea, maybe that wasn't the correct thing to do.'"
On Dec. 16, 2014, Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski recommended termination of Merriman in a 26-page summary he released of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office investigation into charges of impropriety.
"I simply no longer have any confidence in Deputy Chief Merriman's ability to serve BPD (Bradenton Police Department) effectively," Radzilowski wrote in the letter addressed to Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston. "Termination of Deputy Chief Warren T. Merriman III's employment with BPD is therefore appropriate."
Merriman had maintained his innocence to the Bradenton Herald less than two months earlier on Oct. 25, saying that his boss, Radzilowski, asked him in a private meeting to resign in exchange for the city dropping those charges.
"I replied to him, 'No, an innocent man will not resign his employment based on false allegations made against him," Merriman said at the time. "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.'"
The motion hearing is set to be continued at 10 a.m. Nov. 4.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.