Mayor to ask for independent probe of Bradenton Police

FILE - An independent investigation will be conducted amid allegation of misconduct against...
FILE - An independent investigation will be conducted amid allegation of misconduct against Police Chief Melanie Bevan.
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 12:47 PM EDT
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UPDATED with comment from police union.

BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown said Tuesday he will recommend the city authorize an independent investigation of the Bradenton Police Department after accusations of misconduct were leveled against Chief Melanie Bevan and other top commanders.

In a news release issued Tuesday morning, Brown said he will recommend North Port Police Capt. Brian Gregory and retired Judge Greg P. Holder conduct the investigation.

Brown, who had resisted the police union’s calls for such an investigation for months, said the allegations “are not well supported with direct statements or action by the Chief,” and said, “I see no need to relieve Chief Bevin of her duties during this investigation.”

But Mick McHale, president of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents the department’s rank-and-file officers, said he was stunned to read Brown’s comments that the allegations were not supported.

“Are you kidding me?” McHale asked ABC7. He defended the four sworn affidavits by current and recently resigned officers, who quoted Bevan and others in the department’s top echelon as they recounted in detail meetings in which Bevan allegedly suggested department policy and possibly the law.

“What more does Mayor Brown need to take action?” McHale said. “I’m bewildered.”

The series of allegations of misconduct against Bevan and her top commanders have been revealed in the past few weeks ban independent investigation by the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, who has been demanding “immediate action.”

PBA President Mick McHale says while while the news of an independent investigation “is a step in the right direction,” his organization has concerns about how Gregory and Holder were selected

Jeannie Roberts, the city’s communications coordinator, said “Mayor Brown, Police Chief Melanie Bevan and the City of Bradenton plan no further comment until the investigation is resolved.”

Two weeks ago, in signed affidavits, three officers, including a senior lieutenant and a veteran sergeant, accused Bevan and other top officers of suggesting that detectives harass a suspect in order to crack a 20-year-old cold case, and of allowing Internal Affairs to violate the rights of officers.

Also, and, perhaps most disturbingly, Bevan is accused of conspiring to steal a personal cell phone to cover up an affair between a senior officer and a married dispatcher who took her own life after the affair came to light.

“The startling revelation by one of our veteran police sergeants that Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan and (former) Deputy Chief Paul McWade conspired to confiscate and search the personal cell phone of his deceased wife is further evidence that Chief Melanie Bevan and her administration operate without any regard for the law,” said McHale.

This comes just days after another officer, Hannah Kalchbrenner, resigned from the force after she said she was “ambushed” by Internal Affairs after she raised questions about Chief Bevan conducting what she thought was an illegal search of a home during an arrest in July.

The police union, in two letters to Mayor Brown, asked the city to authorize an independent investigation by an outside agency into the allegations, and to suspend Bevan until the probe is complete.

At a City Council meeting on Aug. 10, Brown refused to discuss the matter after Councilman Bill Sanders pressed him on the issue.

“I’m in receipt of 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 denied Kalchbrenner’s allegations in an open letter Aug. 11, calling the charges “false and slanderous,” and accused McHale 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.

“That Mr. McHale ... has publicly convicted me and others without knowing and evaluating the evidence, is beyond hypocritical,” her 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.”

Cold case

Patrick Mahoney, a five-year veteran of the department, says in his affdavit, that in 2020, he was assigned to the case of the 2000 murder of 25-year-old Tara Reilly. The woman was found lying dead and naked in a pond behind Walmart on Cortez Road in Bradenton. The case has never been solved.

In February 2021, Mahoney said he attended a meeting about the case with several officers, including Bevan, Deputy Chief Josh Cramer, Deputy Chief Paul McWade, Capt. William Knight, and Lt. Shannon Seymour.

Mahoney says he identified a suspect whom he believed could identify the killer, but added the suspect did not want to cooperate with police; also the state attorney’s office had denied a request for an arrest warrant.

Participants in the meeting began suggesting ways to compel the suspect to share information.

“At that point, Chief Bevan asked whether or not the suspect had a valid driver’s license and suggested that ‘we crash into his car’ and thereafter arrest him for driving on a suspended license,” the affidavit says.

Mahoney says Bevan made other suggestions, including repossessing the suspect’s truck, getting his power disconnected, and even having his children removed from his custody. “We need to make this guy’s life hell until he cooperates,” Bevan is quoted as saying.

Seymour, who has also filed his own affidavit, described at one point Chief Bevan leaving the room to take a phone call, “and I promptly stated that we would not be employing any of the outrageous and illegal strategies that Chief Bevan ... proposed,” Seymour’s statement says.

Seymour continues to work at the department and has requested that the city provide whistleblower protection against any retaliation.

An affair uncovered

Eva Kelly was a dispatcher with the Bradenton Police department for six years. She was married to Bradenton Police Sgt. Joseph Kelly.

Kelly resigned her job in 2019. On Dec. 2, 2019, she took her own life at her home in Manatee County, while her husband was working the night shift.

Kelly, in his affidavit, says a few months after her death, said he suspected his wife was having an affair with then-Deputy Chief Paul McWade.

“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,” the affidavit said.

It is alleged that Bevan’s command staff assigned officers to get close to Kelly and provide support, but in reality, their mission was to get Eva Kelly’s phone without her grieving husband’s knowledge.

“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.

Mahoney’s affidavit agreed with Kelly’s assertion, saying he was ordered to stick with Kelly in order to secure the phone, saying McWade wanted to keep Joseph from seeing texts 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 his affidavit.

Independent probe

If the City Council approves, North Port Police Capt. Brian Gregory and retired Judge Greg P. Holder will conduct the investigation.

Gregory began his law enforcement career in 1996 with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, his bio on the North Port Police website says.

After a stint with the Miami Gardens Police Department he started with the North Port Police Department in 2018 where he has served as a Patrol Officer, Economic Crimes Detective, and in 2019 he was promoted to Commander over Professional Standards. In 2020 he was promoted to Captain of the Administration Bureau.

Holder was elected as a County Court Judge in 1994 and Circuit Court Judge in 1996. He served in virtually every division within Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit.

He is currently with the law firm of Zinober Diana & Monteverde P.A. in Tampa.

McHale says the police union welcomes the independent investigation, he has concerns over the selection of Gregory and Holder. McHale said he would be curious to know what criteria was used to make the selection, saying it was “concerning” that Gregory, who oversees Internal Affairs for North Port’s police department, would be picked to investigate another agency’s Internal Affairs unit.