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Cop on trial for allegedly tipping off murder suspect

Opening arguments are scheduled to begin for a Riviera Beach police officer in what is expected to be a closely watched case.

Vice Agent John Edwards Toombs, 34 and a Riviera Beach resident, will face a jury on charges of unlawful disclosure of confidential information and official misconduct, both third-degree felonies.

The case has garnered widespread interest because if Toombs is convicted, many cases he has made arrests in likely could be in jeopardy. It also is expected to lay bare internal conflict within the city's police department, which has seen two other officers charged in unrelated cases. A top prosecutor has said in court he expects more arrests.

Chief among Toombs' accusers is another officer, former Riviera Beach Detective Shawn Vance, who believes Toombs tipped off a murder suspect Vance was trying to locate and arrest.

Vance now works for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

It's a confounding case because Toombs was the officer who originally tipped Vance to the suspect, Arnell Walker, told Vance where Walker was, and even described what Walker was wearing the night Vance arrested him, according to depositions taken in the case.

Toombs' criminal defense attorney Steve Sessa, the brother of a law enforcement officer, asked in a court pleading for a precise trial date because "certain members of the international union of police" are flying in from out of state to be present for trial.

The trial will likely last three to four days with Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp.

Toombs was investigated and charged by the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office. Prosecuting him in court will be Assistant State Attorney Danielle Croke in the office's Public integrity Section.

In a probable cause affidavit, a State Attorney's Office investigator wrote of an alleged conversation between Vance and Toombs, where Toombs told Vance he had to play both sides of the fence and was greatly concerned with what Walker was saying about being tipped off by a friend.

Vance also recounted hearing Toombs tell a person he was talking to on the phone that someone was looking for him on the night Vance had shown up to arrest Walker at a Palm Beach Lakes High School basketball game in January 2009.

Yet the investigator, in the same deposition, said she found no phone record of that call.

Defending Toombs is longtime criminal defense attorney Donnie Murrell.

Vance sought Walker in the case of a Nathaniel "Tankpot" Miller who was shot and, a month later, shot again and killed.

At least one man convicted in that shooting has been brought from prison to testify, according to a court record. Listed as witnesses in Toombs' defense are officers, including Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams.

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