What John Toombs' Acquittal Means for the Dysfunctional Riviera Beach Cops

"We have a little dysfunction in the chain of command in Riviera Beach," defense attorney Steve Sessa told a jury in Palm Beach Circuit Court yesterday. "Because of that dysfunction, that's why we're here."

Sessa was arguing that his client, Riviera Beach Vice Agent John Toombs, did not warn a murder suspect that fellow cops were coming to arrest him. By calling the department dysfunctional, he was criticizing Toombs' supervisors for allowing fellow cops to accuse him of a crime, without launching an internal investigation.

A jury acquitted Toombs on both felony charges he faced.

But that doesn't mean the dysfunction in the Riviera police department has disappeared.

Another Riviera detective, Lee Ann Schneider, is still facing charges that she forged her supervisor's signature on scores of official documents, to justify the supervisor's claims for overtime. According to prosecutors, Schneider committed these crimes for two years before anyone higher up in the chain of command noticed. How is that possible in a functional police department?

Schneider's supervisor, Sergeant Pat Galligan, was a popular officer in Riviera for 23 years. He served as a public information officer, won an award for outstanding achievement from his bosses, and earned a fierce loyalty from his friends.

Yet according to allegations made by detectives working beneath him, Galligan would sit at home and answer their phone calls about shootings, robberies, or rapes, then submit overtime slips as if he'd been up all night working.

Galligan has not responded to New Times' request for comment. But a probable cause affidavit alleges that he admitted to his boss, Assistant Chief David Harris, that he was putting in overtime for phone calls.

Schneider handed serious sexual battery and child abuse cases. She would read her probable cause affidavits to Galligan over the phone, and he'd tell her to sign his name as the notary to the affidavits, Galligan told Harris.

Galligan added that he "worked all the hours he submitted, and these phone calls from Schneider justified the submission of the overtime by him," Harris told a state attorney's office investigator.

Harris, who has been a cop for three decades, said he had no idea the forgeries were happening until the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office started investigating.

Let's recap: The Assistant Chief had no clue a detective was forging signatures on legal documents for two years. The supervisor of the detective bureau was sitting at home taking phone calls and collecting overtime, trusting his officers to be their own watchdogs. One of those detectives had to report the alleged misdeeds to the FBI before anything was done about it.

Even more incredible: Schneider faces 152 counts of forgery and official misconduct. She has pleaded not guilty, and is still working on restricted duty in Riviera.

Galligan has not been charged. He retired quietly in 2009, two months before Schneider was arrested.

Sounds like a perfectly functional police department, no?

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