Police officers are given special privileges that ordinary civilians don’t have in order to help them do their job of protecting and serving their communities. Sometimes, however, officers abuse those privileges for their own gain.
To help make finding people a little easier, police officers have access to a database containing citizen’s sensitive information. Recently, however, a Florida cop was caught inappropriately using that police database as his own personal dating service…
A Chance Encounter
In June of 2018, a young woman from Bradenton, Florida, a coastal city south of Tampa, got the feeling that a man was following her as she drove home to her parents’ house. According to the woman, she had met the man earlier that day in a ‘chance, brief encounter’ in a parking lot.
A Strange Request
So when she parked her car at her parents’ home, she quickly made her way inside. Sure enough, the woman’s parents heard a knock on their door shortly after their daughter got inside. The man was dressed in a police uniform and identified himself as a cop. He explained that he needed to speak to their daughter about a domestic matter.
Most people in that situation would have felt like they had no choice but to cooperate with the officer. However, the couple knew their daughter wasn’t involved in a domestic matter and that there was so real need for him to speak with her. So they started asking questions.
The couple refused to let the officer speak with their daughter and asked the officer what his motives were with wanting to speak with her. They also requested the officer give them his name and the name of his supervisor. The officer, Sgt. Leonel Marines refused both requests and left the home.
A Citizen’s Compaint
Even though they never got his name, the couple called the Bradenton Police Department to report what had just happened as they felt the encounter had been inappropriate. That phone call ended up sparking a lot of questions and a massive investigation into Sgt. Marines.
The Watch Commander
Once back at the police station, the watch commander told Marines that there had been a citizen’s complaint made about him. The watch commander then started asking questions about what Marines had been up to and why a couple would have possibly called to make a complaint about him.
At that point, Marines tried to explain his creepy behavior as nothing but a misunderstanding. Marines told the watch commander that he had followed the young woman home because one of her headlights wasn’t working. Marines also claimed he believed the woman might be impaired.
An Unbelievable Story
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan heard Marines’ excuses but didn’t buy them. Not only did the story not make any sense, but that isn’t how a police officer should have handled the situation if it really had happened the way he had described.
An Investigation Begins
“The two stories really didn’t match up,” Chief Bevan told reporters about the incident. “And when it was brought to my attention, I ordered a further investigation into the incident, which ultimately led to an audit of Marines’ driver license and vehicle registration record use, as well as his patrol activity.”
Thousands Of Man Hours
Bevan ordered an official internal investigation into the 36-year-old sergeant’s on-duty records that same month. The department ended up allocating five people to work on the case full-time. The group spent thousands of hours mining data and performing interviews.
A Dark Shadow On Law Enforcement
What the team of investigators discovered was truly disturbing and Bevan said: “cast a dark shadow on our law enforcement profession.” According to the police department, they learned that Marines was using the police database for matters that had nothing to do with police work.
A Personal Dating Service
“The results of this audit heightened my concerns even greater due to the discrepancies of the subjects he was conducting queries on,” Bevan said. In reality, Marines had been using the sensitive database to mine information as if it were his own personal dating service.
According to investigators, they found a “very, very clear trend of Marines focusing on female versus male names.” Evidence shows that Marines was abusing his access to private information starting as early as 2012. Since then, Marines had used the information to track down and make contact with hundreds of women.
“To get right to the root of the matter, Leonel Marines was not utilizing this data for law enforcement purposes whatsoever,” Bevan told reporters in early March of 2019 when the investigation was addressed publicly. “Instead, he was using it a variety of ways.”
Speaking To The Victims
“From social media, cold telephone calls, visits to their home under the guise of being there for police business, you name it — to try and get dates with these women,” Bevan explained. Since then, investigators have been able to find and interview around 150 women who Marines made contact with both on and off duty.
Bevan described Marines as persistent and explained he allegedly managed to sleep with some of those women while on duty. Not only was Marines’ behavior inappropriate, but it is being considered gross misconduct as he broke several department rules on records security.
During the internal investigation, Marines was assigned to desk duty. As more information was discovered, the 12-year veteran with the force was placed on administrative leave without pay and was stripped of his badge, gun, and uniform. In October of 2018, Marines resigned, but Bevan said he would have been fired had he remained on the force.
“Of course, it goes without saying that this is not what our officers should be doing with their access to information or with their time,” Bevan said about Marines, who targeted Hispanic women who couldn’t speak English well. “This is truly a disturbing situation for me as chief.”
“Over the past couple of weeks, I have personally met with most of the women involved in the smaller subset in an effort to help them regain their trust in the Bradenton Police Department and to ensure them that Marines’ actions are not a representation of those who so proudly wear this uniform and badge — and also to simply tell them I’m sorry.”
The Real Heroes
Bevan also thanked the young woman’s parents who reported Marines and sparked the investigation. “They were heroes, as far as I’m concerned. In this day and age, it takes a little bit of courage to tell a police officer standing at their door ‘No, we don’t want to let you talk to our daughter because we don’t get the right feeling about this.’,” Bevan said. “As far as I’m concerned, he betrayed the oath he swore to.”