Bradenton police chief says results of misconduct probe were expected

Second investigation into different charges is still ongoing
ABC7 News at 4pm
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 3:49 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - A day after Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan was cleared of charges of conducting an illegal search of a home in July, Bevan lamented the toll the case has taken on the department.

“I think this whole thing has been an embarrassment for this department,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Bevan was the target of a complaint filed by former patrol officer Hannah Kalchbrenner, who told the Internal Affairs department that she and other officers witnessed Bevan conduct an illegal search during an arrest July 14.

After the Bradenton City Council approved asking retired Hillsborough County Judge Gregory Holder to conduct an independent investigation into that incident, Holder concluded he saw no issues with Bevan’s conduct.

“Chief Bevan’s actions were not only consistent with both the statutory and constitutional parameters but were also consistent with defined police procedures,” he wrote.

“I conclude that absolutely no Fourth Amendment concerns or violations were implicated by these actions,” he said. “Under these facts, supported by competent and substantial evidence, there simply was no search or seizure of either persons or property.”

The only criticism Holder noted was that Bevan was not wearing a bulletproof vest during the arrest and that she set a bad example by not doing that.

Bevan said Tuesday she was confident she had done nothing wrong. “I expected that from the onset,” she said. “I was always confident. I know my job. I know the law.”

She said she had one regret: “I should have had that vest on.”

Bevan criticized unnamed city officials and news media for discussing the case before the investigation was finished, calling it a “smear campaign.”

“We all saw how it played out in the court of public opinion,” she said. “It doesn’t always matter what the facts are. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. This is what happened here.”

Bevan has also criticized the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, for pushing for the independent investigation. Hinting last month that the allegations were a contract negotiation ploy, she accused 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.”

Kalchbrenner has since resigned from the force, along with her husband -- who was also an officer in Bradenton -- after she said she was “ambushed” by internal affairs investigators after filing the complaint, and was “thereafter interrogated and illegally detained.”

“Investigators refused to allow Kalchbrenner to have union representation or a lawyer present, and they refused to allow her to use a restroom,” and demanded she surrender her personal phone for examination, the union alleges.

Kalchbrenner has filed an unfair labor practice suit with the state Public Employees Relations Commission.

Additional accusations

While Bevan has been cleared in the July 14 incident, a separate independent investigation of more serious allegations is still underway, officials said.

When Mayor Gene Brown asked Judge Holder to look into July 14 allegations, he also selected North Port Police Capt. Brian Gregory to investigate a separate series of allegations of misconduct against Bevan and her top commanders.

That investigation is still ongoing, police spokesman Josh Taylor told ABC7 Tuesday.

In August, the police union revealed signed affidavits by three officers, including a senior lieutenant and a veteran sergeant, accusing 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.