Florida law enforcement agency declines to investigate Bradenton police chief and staff

Allegations of wrongdoing at the Bradenton Police Department will not be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after receiving an anonymous letter filled with accusations.

Mayor Gene Brown and Police Chief Melanie Bevan asked the state agency to review complaints lobbed against the department, but they did not send the results from a recent survey. Most of the department’s officers responded, many of them accusing senior staffers of corruption and favoritism.

Instead, FDLE officials confirmed that Bradenton leaders only sent an anonymous letter accusing Bevan and members of her command staff of several misdeeds.

“We were asked to review anonymous allegations against the Chief, which we did and determined there was insufficient information to warrant an inquiry/criminal investigation,” Special Agent in Charge Vaden “Shane” Pollard wrote in an email responding to questions from the Bradenton Herald.

Earlier this year, the police union sent a survey to every officer at the Bradenton Police Department’s 102 officers, asking them to provide anonymous feedback on working conditions while leaders negotiate a new contract with the city.

The results of the survey were the flashpoint of a recent Bradenton City Council meeting that saw Councilman Bill Sanders suggest the police department should be formally investigated.

Bradenton Police Department
Bradenton Police Department

“This is one of the worst reports I’ve ever seen,” Sanders said at the time.

Anonymous letter full of complaints

In response, Mayor Gene Brown said he forwarded an anonymous letter — but not the union survey results — to FDLE for an “independent review” in June.

The letter detailed several allegations of improper or criminal behavior by Bevan and senior police leaders. Bevan is accused of tampering with ongoing Internal Affairs investigations and urging officers to intimidate cold case witnesses into sharing new information.

Bevan has not responded to the Bradenton Herald’s attempts to reach her for comment.

In a recent interview, Brown said the FDLE’s decision not to investigate further is the outcome he expected.

“Obviously, when something comes up that warrants a further investigation, we do it. FDLE’s conclusion is what we thought would come out,” Brown said. “People keep throwing stuff out there that’s not true and hoping it gets legs. I’m about the truth.”

FDLE declines review of BPD

But in a letter to Bevan and Brown, an FDLE attorney explained that the agency “does not investigate alleged internal administrative violations or alleged violations of agency policy.”

FDLE also said it does not investigate anonymous complaints.

When asked why he did not send the police survey when requesting FDLE’s assistance, Brown said he did not want to include the results while the city continues to negotiate an updated labor contract with the union. In June, the mayor described the survey as “a distraction.”

Union leaders were disappointed to learn that the survey would not be reviewed by state or local officials. Mick McHale, president of the Southwest Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, called on police leaders to treat the allegations seriously.

“It might not rise to the level of a crime, but it sure as heck rises to the level of violation of rules, regulations and conduct,” said McHale, who suggested the department begin its own administrative review of the complaints.

The union survey found that more than half of Bradenton’s police officers were unhappy with certain working conditions, such as morale, wages and the appearance of favoritism from department leaders.

Critics say BPD investigation still needed

Speaking with the Herald, Sanders said he was not surprised to hear FDLE has decided not to investigate.

“FDLE is obviously politically slanted. You saw what they did with all those text messages. (Those commissioners) were clearly breaking the law,” Sanders argued, referring to FDLE’s early 2021 decision not to pursue charges against four Manatee County commissioners accused of breaking Florida’s Sunshine Law.

“If you have a serious problem with corruption, you don’t go to the local police department or the sheriff’s office. You go to the United States Department of Justice and contact the FBI,” he added. “That way, there won’t be state politics that overflow to get a fair assessment.”

Sanders also accused Brown and Bevan of trying to prevent a thorough investigation by withholding the union survey results.

“That shows you dishonesty on the mayor and the chief. That’s dishonest because you only showed them one thing and you knew there was a lot more,” Sanders said.

Councilmembers defend Bradenton police

Other Bradenton City Council members stressed their support for local law enforcement and denounced Sanders’ recent criticism of the department.

“Continually, constantly bashing our law enforcement is really concerning to me,” Councilwoman Jayne Kocher said. “Public safety is so paramount for all of us. I don’t doubt that there is room for improvement, but to use a document that is a few people’s opinion and hold it out there is inappropriate.”

“The Bradenton Police Department deserves credit because in Bradenton, at least in my area, there’s some serious, dangerous situations,” added Councilwoman Pam Coachman. “We’re so blessed that we have not had problems.”

Even if the allegations were not found to warrant a criminal investigation, union leaders question why an administrative investigation has not been conducted.

“Law enforcement officers are oftentimes accused of a crime. When that criminal investigation is concluded and there are not facts to pursue, the agency doesn’t stop” McHale said. “The agency then conducts an administrative investigation.”

“The chief of police and/or administrators should not be treated any differently than a law enforcement officer,” he added.