Gov. DeSantis reappoints embattled police chief to criminal justice standards panel

RON DESANTIS BILL SIGNING (12)
So far, Internal Affairs investigations have found her innocent of any wrongdoing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is reappointing a police chief who has faced numerous complaints and lawsuits from officers in her department to Florida’s influential Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.

He’s also naming three new people to the panel, ensuring ethical, qualified, well-trained law enforcement, corrections and parole officers serve Florida citizens.

The returning member is Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan, who also serves as secretary-treasurer of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. DeSantis first appointed her in September 2020.

Bevan holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Argosy University, a for-profit chain of vocationally focused schools that shut down in 2019 after the U.S. Department of Education cut its federal funding amid allegations of misused student aid money.

In the last couple of years, Bevan has faced numerous allegations from current and former police officers in her department.

So far, Internal Affairs investigations by an outside agency, the North Port Police Department, have found her innocent of any wrongdoing.

All the officers who filed complaints belonged to the Bradenton Police Department’s (BPD) Special Investigations Unit, Bevan told the Bradenton Herald in March. Four of its members have since resigned.

However, according to the BPD website, some officers named in complaints against her remain on the force.

One complaint stemmed from an alleged incident in July 2022, when some officers said Bevan conducted an unlawful search of a suspect’s residence during the service of an arrest warrant. Former officer Hannah Kalchbrenner said she saw Bevan inspect the home and participate in a pat down of two male subjects without an arrest warrant. Kalchbrenner claimed those actions were Fourth Amendment violations.

On Sept. 12, 2022, Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown announced that Hillsborough County Judge Greg Holder had found Bevan innocent following an investigation by North Port Police Cpt. Brian Gregory. Brown selected Gregory to investigate Kalchbrenner’s allegation and others lodged within the department.

Kalchbrenner and her husband, another BPD officer, resigned from the force and filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit with the Public Employees Relations Commission. They alleged mistreatment by Internal Affairs investigators.

Bradenton’s police chief since 2016, Melanie Bevan worked for nearly three decades at the St. Petersburg Police Department and holds numerous accreditations and honors. Image via Bradenton Police Department.

Four more BPD officers lodged similar complaints. The Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association (SFPBA) said the complaints stemmed from worsening relations between Bevan and department members in the past two years.

Bevan called the allegations “slanderous.” She later attributed the complaints to a tactic the SFBPA used during negotiations between BPD employees and the department.

In one complaint, Bradenton Police Sgt. Joseph Kelly said BPD command staff tried to “intercept” a phone belonging to his wife, Eva Kelly, a Bradenton dispatcher who committed suicide in late 2019. Kelly said in an affidavit that he suspected it was in connection to a rumored affair his wife had with then-Deputy Chief Paul McWade, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Kelly also alleged he was assigned “buddy officers” after his wife’s suicide who were supposedly there to support him but were actually there to get hold of the phone.

One officer allegedly assigned to that task, Det. Patrick Mahoney, backed up Kelly’s claim in a separate affidavit. He also said McWade ordered him and former Det. Christopher Capdarest to arrest Kelly if he appeared at his wife’s funeral.

In another affidavit, Capdarest corroborated Mahoney’s story.

Mahoney also claimed Bevan and the BPD command staff asked him and other officers to harass and unlawfully arrest a man suspected of knowing the culprit of a decades-old unsolved murder.

Bradenton Police Lt. Shannon Seymour, who remains part of the command staff’s operations division, corroborated Mahoney’s statement in his declaration of facts, according to ABC 7. He said Bevan encouraged officers to break the law to get suspects talking and has requested whistleblower protections.

In March, Gregory determined that Bevan was innocent of Mahoney’s allegations. He said Mahoney lied about the incidents and that his claims “conflicted with witness statements, BPD and FDLE records.”

Gregory said Mahoney exhibited a “consistent pattern (of) alleging, under oath, incidents that never occurred” and recommended he be investigated.

Mahoney sued Bevan earlier that month, alleging he was the target of retaliatory actions. The lawsuit still pends resolution, according to Justia.com.

Gregory also dismissed Kelly’s complaint in March, ABC 7 reported, due to an “absence of credible evidence” and “suspicion that Kelly may have improperly quoted individuals in his sworn affidavit.”

As with Mahoney, Gregory recommended that Kelly and Capdarest be investigated. Seymour’s testimony, Gregory said, “causes concern of potential untruthfulness.”

The Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission meets quarterly. It’s made up of 19 members, including the three Sheriffs, five other law enforcement officers ranked sergeant or less, one head of a correctional institution, two correctional officers, one training center director, one Florida resident not in law enforcement or corrections, the director of the Florida Highway Patrol director or a designee, Florida’s Attorney General and the Governor.

Its responsibilities include:

— Establishing uniform minimum standards for the employment and training of police, correctional and probation officers.

— Establishing and maintaining officer training programs, requirements and certification of training schools and instructors.

— Certifying officers who complete a Florida Basic Recruit Training Program or are “diversely qualified through experience and training, and meet minimum employment standards.”

— Reviewing and administering appropriate sanctions when an officer, instructor or training school violates Florida Statutes and Commission standards.

— Conducting studies of compensation, education and training for correctional, probation and law enforcement disciplines.

— Maintaining a central records repository of all certified officers.

— Developing, maintaining and administering the State Officer Certification Examination.

DeSantis appointed three new members to the Commission, including Madison Correctional Institute Warden Amelia Hill, Lake County Detention Center administrator Skott Jensen, and Florida Highway Patrol Master Trooper William Smith.

Hill is a member of the American Corrections Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Warner Southern University.

Jensen, a fellow Florida Sheriffs Association member, is a U.S. Army veteran and Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission assessor. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Southeastern University.

Smith is coming up on 40 years with the Florida Highway Patrol and serves as vice president of legislative affairs for the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

In 2021, he received “Officer of the Month” honors from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for arresting more than 550 impaired drivers and volunteering for the midnight shift for five straight years.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


One comment

  • rick whitaker

    October 25, 2023 at 8:07 am

    hiring officials that attended fake or religious schools seems to be desantis’ style. the three recently hired judges desantis appointed were from those types of law schools. he seems to be installing dumb-downed incompetent sycophants. pawns is what they are.

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