Bradenton police chief slams union over misconduct allegations

ABC7 News at 5pm
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 1:08 PM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan is fighting back against allegations she conducted an illegal search of a home during an arrest in July.

In an open letter released Thursday morning, Bevan calls the charges “false and slanderous,” and accuses the president of the police union of having a vendetta against her.

“The PBA has obviously failed in its responsibility to successfully negotiate the contracts of its members, and is therefore shifting blame and accountability elsewhere.”

The union representing rank and file officers sent a letter Aug. 8 to Mayor Gene Brown, asking the city to arrange for an independent probe after it claims an officer was harassed after she told Internal Affairs investigators she witnessed Bevan conducting a search of a home in July without a warrant.

The union also asks the city to suspend Bevan pending the resolution of “an unbiased investigation of her behavior and the behavior of her internal affairs investigators conducting the ‘investigation’ into their own chief.”

Mick McHale, president of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, also told ABC7 Wednesday that this is not an isolated incident. “I assure you we will be forthcoming with at least two additional complaints possibly filed in the same manner in a very short timeframe.”

In response, Bevan lashed out at McHale. “To compound his slanderous tactics, Mr. McHale is encouraging and supporting one of his members to publicly (and falsely) accuse me and other employees of misconduct, which is obviously in furtherance of his own vendetta of relieving me of my duties,” her letter says.

The patrol officer who filed the complaint, Hannah Kalchbrenner, says she was “ambushed” by the department’s Internal Affairs investigators and interrogated illegally. After that interaction, she resigned from the force, along with her husband -- who was also an officer in Bradenton -- and has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employees Relations Commission.

The incident

Bradenton Police were assisting probation officers from the Florida Department of Corrections as they served an arrest warrant July 14 on a suspect living in the 900 block of 21st Avenue West.

Chief Bevan was present, participating in a ride-along, observing a new officer on the force who was being trained by Kalchbrenner.

Corrections officers entered the house to arrest the suspect. Kalchbrenner told ABC7 as Bradenton officers waited outside, Chief Bevan, without a warrant or warning, entered the house and began searching the home and contents, despite not having a search warrant.

“Other Bradenton police officers on scene were in shock and were left speechless as they watched Chief Bevan conduct an unlawful search of the home,” the union’s letter says.

The homeowner asked Bevan if she had a warrant to search the house, and demanded Bevan leave. “Chief Bevan ignored the homeowner’s command that she leave her house, and falsely claimed that she was permitted to look around the residence given that a suspect was arrested in the home,” the letter says.

Several days later, Kalchbrenner emailed internal Affairs to report the incident. On July 22, she says she was “ambushed” by internal affairs investigators upon her arrival at the police station.

Investigators refused to allow Kalchbrenner to have union representation or a lawyer present during the questioning. “They wouldn’t let me use the bathroom,” she said. Internal Affairs also demanded she surrender her personal phone for examination, the police union says.

Kalchbrenner told ABC7 her interrogation last nearly 90 minutes. “I started crying,” she said. “I told them I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Kalchbrenner said after deliberating and praying about it for a few days, she and her husband decided to resign. When they arrived at the station July 31, their key cards were already deactivated and were not allowed to enter the building.

ABC7 has filed a request for the body camera video recorded during the incident.

The investigation

McHale is critical of the city police’s Internal Affairs department, saying the tactics used “would make it incredibly difficult” to conduct a proper investigation of itself, given “they report to the chief,” he told ABC7.

“What comes first is the the well being of our officers,” McHale said. “When our officers are mistreated, violated, by the actions taken from the administration, from Internal Affairs, from the chief of police, then we have to call that situation to the forefront. It has to be addressed immediately.”

At a City Council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Brown refused to discuss the matter after City Councilman Bill Sanders pressed him on the issue.

“I’m in receipt on the letter. And there are currently active administrative investigations ... so based on these facts, I’m not at liberty to discuss it at this time. We are addressing it. There will be no more discussion until the investigation is complete,” Brown said.

Bevan dismissed the claims. “That Mr. McHale ... has publicly convicted me and others without knowing and evaluating the evidence, is beyond hypocritical,” her open letter says. “That Councilman Sanders, who has a reported history of abusive behavior toward many of us who work for the City, has participated in this attack, is even more disturbing.

“Collective and united support for law enforcement has never been more critical than right now.”

The full letter from Chief Bevan is below:

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