Despite Decades of Corruption Allegations, Is the Riviera Beach Police Department Clean? | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Despite Decades of Corruption Allegations, Is the Riviera Beach Police Department Clean?

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State Attorney Michael McAuliffe was clearly trying to send a message: The Riviera Beach Police Department was his next target in Corruption County.

But without any high-ranking officials indicted, it seemed a hollow crusade. Harris retained his post as assistant chief. Galligan retired and escaped criminal charges. Schneider was the only one facing a lifetime in prison.

McAuliffe's spokesperson said he would not comment for this story, but sources familiar with the department have speculated that prosecutors hoped Schneider, if pressured, would spill dirt on Galligan, who would in turn roll on Assistant Chief Harris. If that happened, the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office could finally claim a victory against corruption in Riviera. But to this day, no such situation has materialized.

And Harris himself dismissed that notion, noting that the FBI and FDLE had never found any evidence of wrongdoing, so why would McAuliffe think he could find some? "He would have to have a hell of an ego," Harris said.

Throughout it, Riviera Police Chief Williams remained silent on the scandal. His spokesperson said he would not comment for this article.

Schneider, Dodson, and Toombs pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and remained on "restricted duty," confined to desk jobs while the department conducted internal-affairs investigations. They are all still collecting their paychecks.

Meanwhile, two of the Musketeers fled the department. Vance transferred to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office; Borrows now works for Jupiter's police force. In his resignation letter, Vance took a parting shot at Harris and the old guard.

"I am leaving as a direct result of a concerted campaign of harassment directed at me inside the police department," he wrote. "While very thinly-veiled threats to do me bodily harm previously had been made by a high-ranking official in the police department, most recently my life was threatened by a supervisor with the means to accomplish his threat."

In January 2011, Toombs' case was the first of the three to go to trial. (Dodson's trial is scheduled for April 4; Schneider doesn't have a trial date yet.) An uncomfortable parade of cops took the stand to testify. It was an awkward scene. Cops and prosecutors usually work together to get the bad guys; now they were adversaries.

Schneider and Dodson watched the proceedings from the courtroom benches. The prevailing theory was that if the prosecutors lost the case against Toombs, the remaining two cops would face smoother sailing.

As the day wore on, it became clear that the case came down to Vance's word against Toombs'. It wasn't going well. The jury took less than an hour to acquit Toombs. As the judge read the verdict, a crowd of supporters erupted in cheers.

"I think it's a vindication," Toombs' attorney, Steve Sessa, said after the trial. "It was a moral victory for the City of Riviera Beach."

As the officers celebrated at the courthouse that evening, Harris was noticeably absent from the crowd. He was back in Riviera, working. Reached by phone later, he pointed to Toombs' acquittal as evidence that the state attorney's investigation was much ado about nothing.

"McAuliffe has a job to do, and he did his job," Harris said. "I just wish that they did a more thorough investigation and brought the Police Department in from day one. No one wants a dirty cop working for 'em."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab