UPDATED: Agent John Toombs in Court Today; First Trial in the Riviera Beach Police Scandal
Riviera Beach Vice Agent John Toombs will be in court this morning facing allegations that he tipped off a murder suspect to help him avoid being arrested.
In March 2009, Detective Shawn Vance met with an FBI agent to complain that Toombs "knowingly and deliberately" tried to interfere with a homicide Vance was investigating. According to a written statement Vance gave the FBI, his concerns centered on the arrest of Arnell Walker.
On Toombs' advice, Vance and other members of the Palm Beach County Violent Crime Task Force planned to corner Walker at a Palm Beach Lakes High Schooll basketball game.
"Toombs knew. He's the one who told me. He sent my friend to tell me that you were coming," Borrows told the FBI.
UPDATE: On the witness stand today, Toombs denied all the allegations against him. He said he never made a comment about having to "play both sides of the fence," as Vance alleged.
Speaking with a slight lisp and wearing a suit, Toombs, 34, never lost his composure on the stand. He explained that he was trying to help a fellow officer when he texted Vance that Walker was at the game. Then he saw Walker leave and wanted Vance to know the suspect was escaping.
There were no phone records indicating that Toombs called Walker the night of January 21. Walker testified that a stranger -- not Toombs -- came up and told him to leave the gym. But with around 1,200 people at the game that night, prosecutors struggled to prove that Toombs was the person who told the stranger to tip off Walker.
Meanwhile, it was unclear why Toombs would help the suspect escape after he had told Vance to come arrest him.
After a long day of testimony, watching an uncomfortable parade of Riviera Beach cops take the stand to testify about their peers, the jury took around only 40 minutes to decide that Toombs was not guilty.
As the judge read the verdict, a crowd of Toombs' supporters erupted in cheers. Two other Riviera cops -- Sgt. Michael Dodson and Detective Lee Ann Schneider -- had been in the courtroom for most of the day watching the case closely, because they are both under indictment for separate, unrelated crimes.
Toombs' case was the first of the three cases to go trial. His victory appeared to give Dodson and Schneider comfort. When they heard "not guilty," they wiped tears from their eyes.
Toombs got a round of hugs from friends and left the courtroom pushing his grandmother in her wheelchair.
"I think it's a vindication," said his lawyer, Steve Sessa. "It was a moral victory for the City of Riviera Beach."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.