Carlos R. Munoz Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.
BRADENTON,Fla. — Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan said on Thursday that a former sergeant’s actions have cast a “dark shadow” on the police profession and have betrayed the trust of the police department and the people of Bradenton.
A citizen’s complaint led the police chief to open an internal affairs investigation into former sergeant Leonel Marines, who used agency resources to pursue dates and is now the subject of an FBI investigation.
“When our officers first put on the badge, they take an oath to conduct themselves with the highest moral integrity and to build and ensure the public trust,” Bevan said at a press conference Thursday. “Unfortunately, we discovered an employee who has since resigned, who betrayed the trust of this department and the citizens of Bradenton, and who failed to uphold the standards that I strictly enforce.”
Marines, a 12-year veteran of the agency, resigned before the internal affairs investigation had ended. However, an investigation of his activities by five full-time detectives — working thousands of hours — sustained allegations of multiple administrative violations involving “gross misconduct,” to include misuse of criminal justice information, violations of record security and sex on duty.
The former sergeant used creative methods that weren’t relegated to one specific source to contact women via social media, cold telephone calls and visits to their home under the guise of police business to try to get dates, Bevan said.
None were involved in active cases, the internal investigation found.
“He was very persistent and successful at times in his efforts to do so,” Bevan said.
In June 2018, the parents of an adult woman filed a complaint against Marines. He was placed on desk duty while the internal affairs investigation was launched.
The complaint said Marines had a chance encounter with a woman in the parking lot of a local establishment and began to follow her in his patrol car before turning near her home. He showed up at her residence moments later and told her parents he needed to question her about a domestic incident.
The parents, who became suspicious, refused to let their daughter come to the door, and asked Marines for his name and that of his supervisor. He left without giving them the information.
The parents called police and spoke with a watch commander who identified Marines as the officer involved. Marines told his supervisor he followed her home because her headlight was out and he thought she was impaired.
Bevan said Marines’ actions raised suspicion, and she ordered an internal affairs investigation.
As the investigation continued, the “egregious nature” of his actions became more apparent, Bevan said. She ordered Marines to turn in his badge, gun and uniforms and placed him on administrative leave without pay.
Marines resigned on Oct. 30.
The internal affairs investigation revealed hundreds of questionable database searches of women, whom Bevan said were mostly Hispanic.
“From there, a smaller subset was identified and in which we are clearly able to show, Marines engaged in negative and inappropriate direct contact with them while representing himself as a Bradenton Police officer, both on and off duty.”
Had Marines not resigned, Bevan said he would have been fired.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was alerted and Marines’ law enforcement certification was flagged.
Bevan said the police department has added enhancements to its database auditing practices, which prevent misuse of driver’s license and vehicle registration records.
Marines has not yet been charged with a crime, but twice during the news conference Bevan said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the case.
Her department’s internal affairs investigation will not be released until the FBI probe has concluded.
Bevan said the reason for the press conference was to inform the public and to release a picture of Marines to assist the FBI with its investigation.
The police chief said she met with some of the victims to assure them they can trust the police.
“By holding a press conference like I am today — and letting everyone know we don’t stand for this — if a situation similar to this is ever discovered, you can be assured I will do exactly what I did with this one,” Bevan said.
Anyone who might have information regarding Marines is asked to contact the FBI office in Tampa at 813-253-1000.
©2019 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.