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Bradenton's top cop calls mayoral candidate's accusations "inaccurate" and "reckless"

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- An internal investigation into stolen evidence at the Bradenton Police Department was thrust into the spotlight by a recently-released officer who is now running for mayor.

Chief Melanie Bevan says this internal investigation began prior to the political season, but it's clear she nor any other officials had intentions to make it public until it had at least reached a conclusion.

Mayoral candidate Warren Merriman had other ideas.

"Since I no longer work there, I can get it out there, because they're afraid," says Merriman, a former deputy chief at the Bradenton Police Department.

Before he was fired in 2014, Merriman claims he observed problems with the way BPD handled its evidence room, such as a lack of unannounced property inspections he says are vital for accreditation.

At a recent debate, Merriman brought up an internal police investigation into missing evidence that until now, had not been made public.

"The police chief told city officials about the missing guns, missing money, and possibly missing narcotics," says Merriman. "She should have brought that out to the public. Full disclosure."

In an email to ABC7, Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan says Merriman's accusations "are once again inaccurate, and have now reached a level of what I deem to be reckless."

She adds, "All firearms at the Bradenton Police Department have been thoroughly inventoried and accounted for, and the criminal investigation has not revealed otherwise."

In an earlier statment, she said she was "hired 7 months ago by Mayor Poston to ensure not only this matter but all police services provided by BPD are handled and resolved in the same lawful and professional matter Bradenton citizens have come to expect."

Merriman says if this is the case, she should have come to the public about this investigation earlier.

"If she says she was hired to clean up the property and evidence room, she should have came out with that simple fact, and that would've been it," he says. "The people would have at least known that an active investigation was being conducted."

Bradenton attorney Charles Britt says rumors about evidence thefts at BPD have been swirling for a year, and could be a pivotal investigation.

"Any time you have allegations of impropriety with evidence -- whether it be drugs or money -- they have to take it very seriously," says Britt, a former member of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "If they don't, it affects the integrity of all their investigations and the security of their evidence."

Bevan says she will not continue to "jeopardize the integrity of this investigation by repeatedly responding to false accusations."