Four more former and current Bradenton Police Department officers have filed complaints against the agency’s chief.
Affidavits sent to Mayor Gene Brown from the four officers said that the command staff encouraged unlawful arrests and stealing from an officer. Mike McHale, president of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, has asked Brown to investigate the allegations.
On Aug. 8 McHale wrote a letter to the mayor requesting an investigation into Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan’s alleged “unlawful search” during a response to an arrest warrant, which was reported by a former Bradenton police officer. The officer who filed the complaint and her husband have since resigned from the department.
In case you missed it: Bradenton Police Chief calls unlawful search allegations ‘slanderous’
Since then, officers from the department have begun speaking out against actions from the command staff that they say have “put all of the citizens in Bradenton at risk, including any and all BPD officers.”
‘They’re literally on the verge of complete nervous breakdowns’
Stephanie Webster, general counsel for the PBA, said the complaints that have been filed within the last two weeks have been a culmination of worsening relations over the last two years. She said the union has tried to get the mayor’s attention on its complaints for a while.
“I’ve had several (officers) that their doctors have had to put them on anxiety medication,” Webster said. “They’re literally on the verge of complete nervous breakdowns because they’re more afraid of their chief and administration than they are of the bad guys on the street.”
Brown could not be reached by the Herald-Tribune for comment on the latest complaints filed by former and current police officers. In an email to McHale on Aug. 9, Brown wrote that the initial complaints against Bevan and the Internal Affairs Division are under active administration investigation and can’t be discussed but that they would be added to the investigative files.
A representative with the Bradenton Police Department said due to the ongoing investigation, additional statements from Bevan would not be available.
In response to the earlier allegations of an alleged unlawful search, Bevan said in a letter that it was “no coincidence” that the PBA and McHale launched the criticism amid a standstill in union contract negotiations.
“The PBA has obviously failed in its responsibility to successfully negotiate the contracts of its members, and is therefore shifting blame and accountability elsewhere,” Bevan said in a letter.
McHale said the union contract negotiations are a separate issue.
‘Sense of betrayal’
The first affidavit and complaint listed was from Bradenton Police Sgt. Joseph Kelly. After his wife committed suicide, Bevan and BPD command staff tried to “intercept” her phone, Kelly said in his affidavit. He suspects this was in connection to a possible affair the former Deputy Chief Paul McWade had with his wife, Kelly said in his affidavit.
“I also heard from multiple officers who attended training seminars where St. Pete officers were also training, that St. Pete officers would chide BPD officers to ‘hide your wives’ from Deputy Chief McWade,” Joseph Kelly wrote in his affidavit.
Joseph Kelly was married to Eva Kelly, a dispatcher for the city of Bradenton who committed suicide on Dec. 2, 2019. Her death was investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and her phone was impounded by detectives. During the investigation, BPD command staff tried accessing her phone before it got back to Joseph Kelly, according to the complaint.
The command staff went as far as assigning “buddy officers” ostensibly to support Joseph Kelly but instead were asked to “intercept” Eva Kelly’s phone.
Joseph Kelly said that McWade ordered Det. Patrick Mahoney to follow him and to take any opportunity to grab Eva Kelly’s phone without his knowledge. He said that after his wife’s death Mahoney spent considerable time at his house.
“It is incomprehensible to learn now that BPD was paying officers to spy on me and directing them to steal my property under the guise of compassion and sympathy,” Joseph Kelly wrote in the affidavit.
Joseph Kelly called a meeting with Bevan, and he alleged she admitted that she wanted information off Eva Kelly’s phone and that McWade was involved, his affidavit stated. Joseph said that the police department reached out to the evidence technician at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to get Eva’s phone.
“I cannot overstate the sense of betrayal that I felt after learning that ‘admin’ within BPD was conspiring to steal my late wife’s phone from me at one of the lowest points in my life,” Joseph wrote.
Mahoney confirmed Joseph’s statement in his affidavit. He wrote that after Eva’s suicide, he was ordered to “stick with” Joseph. He alleged that McWade wanted to prevent Joseph from learning of communications Eva had on her phone.
“It was clear that Deputy Chief McWade did not have any regard for Sgt. Kelly’s personal property or for his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizure,” Mahoney wrote in the affidavit.
At Eva’s funeral, McWade allegedly directed Mahoney and former detective Christopher Capdarest to arrest her ex-husband if he showed up, despite not having for a basis for arrest.
“I recall Deputy Chief McWade specifically telling Det. Capdarest to just ‘find something’ to arrest him for because he was not supposed to be at the funeral,” Mahoney wrote in the affidavit.
Capdarest confirmed this in his affidavit.
“I was not provided any probable cause to justify the order to arrest Eva Kelly’s ex-husband, but it is a prime example of how BPD command staff is willing to violate the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment,” Capdarest wrote.
Officers also complained about misconduct that was encouraged by the command staff as officers conducted investigations.
Mahoney said that while working on an investigation of the murder of Tara Reilly, command staff, including Bevan, asked officers to unlawfully arrest a suspect.
He came in contact with a suspect who could identify the person or persons who murdered Reilly, but the suspect would not cooperate with the investigation.
Bevan asked if the suspect had a valid driver’s license and suggested they should crash into his car and arrest him for driving on a suspended license, the officer alleged.
“Chief Bevan went on to further suggest we repossess the individual’s truck, get his power disconnected, and even have his children removed from his custody,” Mahoney said in his affidavit.
The suspect at the time was also in the hospital recovering from surgery, and Mahoney was told by the State Attorney’s Office to stay away from the suspect. He presented an arrest warrant but was denied.
He told Internal Affairs Det. Curulla that he could not arrest someone since he knew the state was not going to prosecute.
“At that point, Internal Affairs Det. Curulla stated, ‘Well if he thinks he’s under arrest, that’s his problem’,” Mahoney said in the report.
Bradenton Police Lt. Shannon Seymour took part in the same meeting and confirmed Mahoney’s statement. He wrote that Bevan encouraged officers to engage in criminal conduct to get the suspect to talk.
Another complaint centered on Christopher Herron, who was assigned to work with the Special Investigations Unit at the police department by Bevan, despite not being sworn in as an officer, Mahoney wrote in his affidavit. Mahoney said that Herron initiated a traffic stop while operating a patrol car, despite being told by a superior not to.
“Chief Bevan did not inform me that Mr. Herron was not sworn to serve with BPD and she allowed Mr. Herron to conduct himself as if he were a sworn BPD officer,” Mahoney wrote in the report.
Mahoney wrote that Herron was physically abusive and would use his relationship with Bevan to avoid complaints.
“The enabling of Mr. Herron’s repeated violent behavior by Chief Bevan put all of the citizens in Bradenton at risk, including any and all BPD officers,” Mahoney said.
Of the four who filed the complaints, Capdarest is the only one who has resigned. He resigned after being threatened with termination during an internal affairs investigation, Capdarest said in his affidavit.
Before they began recording the interview, investigators told him that if the chief thought he was covering up anything that he would be fired, Capdarest said in his affidavit.
“By the time the recorder was first activated, I was terrified,” Capdarest wrote in his complaint. “My son was only a few months old at that point, and I was terrified of losing my job and my ability to provide for my family.”
He said they threatened him with termination at least 12 times. Most of those times the recorder was off during the interview, he wrote in the affidavit.
Webster said the union will continue to support officers as they come forward with complaints and try to change the trajectory of the police department.
“I think they were just like, ‘We’re done. If we don’t step up and save this agency, it’s never gonna get done.'”
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Bradenton police officers file complaints against the chief of police