CORAL SPRINGS — A Coral Springs police officer who was fired after being accused of letting a suspect go free and heading to lunch has been allowed to return to work in exchange for his early retirement, city officials confirmed.
Richard Best, who earns a $99,373 salary, will retire on Wednesday, which will be his 10-year anniversary with the agency. He is currently working remotely for the police chief, on administrative duty, handling records and doing data entry.
The two sides agreed that he “could have done a better job asking more questions” and been more thorough in the investigation that caused the problems, Best said. He referred further comment to his defense attorney.
“The charges that were the heart of the whole situation … have been rescinded by the police department,” said his lawyer, Gene Gibbons. “At the end of the day there was a lot of misunderstanding, and the city ultimately agreed. Rich can move on in law enforcement if he so chooses.”
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Best, who was on road patrol, had been terminated in May.
Police said he “failed to complete a preliminary criminal investigation methodically, completely, and professionally to include documentation, interviews of witnesses, interrogation of the suspect, and possibly making an arrest.”
But Best chose to fight his firing in arbitration, seeking reinstatement and back pay.
The city has not admitted any wrongdoing, and points to an agreement to “resolve this matter and forego the uncertainties and costs associated with formal grievances and a binding arbitration.”
Both sides agreed that Best, 37, would leave at his 10-year mark, which would allow him to still collect a lifetime pension starting in the year 2036.
Best was fully reinstated in December and given a one-day suspension without pay rather than termination. He also received more than $44,400 in back pay.
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The case that led to Best’s dismissal happened July 21, 2020, when a man had dropped his pants and was exposing himself at a bank off University Drive.
Police said the suspect, who is homeless, was a sexual predator but had not properly registered as one, which is a crime.
But Best made “no attempt” to run background on the suspect and didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, according to the internal affairs records.
Investigators said Best had been planning his lunch with his colleagues since 9:25 a.m. when he sent a message asking ‘Early lunch?” The next message came eight minutes later when he suggested pizza. At 10:53 a.m., he texted another officer through the police department’s computer, “If you get there first, sweet tea and cheese pizza.”
The agency realized there was a problem after a second call to the department later that same day about the homeless man, who was walking along University Drive throwing unidentified “things” at passing cars, pulling his pants down and exposing himself to drivers.
The detective assigned to the case wanted to arrest the man for violation of his sexual offender status, but didn’t have any victims because the cars kept driving.
So that’s when the detective asked Best about possible charges from the bank earlier that day, but there hadn’t been any. The detective started digging into what had actually happened earlier.
Police said when Best overheard the detective ask an officer if anyone ran the man’s background, which includes his driver’s license and warrants, he “immediately” did it on his own.
Best had said he followed department procedure at the bank, but officials said he did not, records show.
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash