Law Life: True romance: LA cop loses job after losing heart to prostitute

By Pat Murphy
The Daily Record Newswire

Who can predict affairs of the heart?

Certainly it never occurred to one Los Angeles deputy sheriff that he was looking at his future wife when he spotted a prostitute standing on a street corner back in August 2002.

At the time, Emir Bautista was a six-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. According to court records, Bautista was on duty when he crossed paths with Shawn Crook. Bautista did not know Crook, but correctly surmised that she was a prostitute.

Bautista stopped to have a chat. He wasn’t going to arrest Crook. No, Bautista wanted to get to know and understand her, and with that insight perhaps help her onto the path of reform.

An unlikely friendship developed from that first conversation between the cop and the prostitute. Bautista later gave Crook his home telephone number. Crook didn’t have a car, so Bautista would give her a lift to methadone clinic where she was receiving treatment for a heroin addiction. Concerned for her safety, Bautista also gave Crook rides home after she finished working the streets at night.

Their friendship eventually blossomed into a romance.

But the love affair was a definite problem for Bautista because the sheriff’s department has a policy which prohibits deputies from engaging in personal relationships with known criminals.

Fellow officers who learned of what was going on warned Bautista that it was not a “smart idea” for him to continue his association with Crook, but Bautista wouldn’t listen.

In August 2003, Bautista and Crook moved in together.

Of course, Bautista was not going to be able to hide his relationship with Crook forever, and sure enough someone tipped off the higher ups at the sheriff’s department. An investigation ensued which laid bare the Bautista/Crook romance.

In August 2004, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department terminated Bautista for engaging in a personal relationship with a known prostitute and heroin addict in violation of the department’s prohibited-association policy.

Undaunted, Bautista eventually married Crook. He also tried to get his job back.

After losing his administrative appeals, Bautista filed a civil rights suit alleging that the department’s prohibited-association policy violated his right to freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

To date, Bautista has lost his legal battle for reinstatement. In the latest development, the California Court of Appeal last month affirmed a summary judgment for the sheriff’s department.

The court recognized that the department “has a legitimate interest in regulating the behavior of its sworn officers to minimize conflicts of interests and protect the credibility and integrity of the Department. Accordingly, anti-fraternization rules prohibiting police officers from socializing with those who they know are engaging in criminal activity have routinely been upheld against constitutional challenges such as Bautista’s.”

Bautista argued that the sheriff’s department could not show that his relationship with Crook actually interfered with the department legitimate interest in preserving its integrity and credibility, and minimizing conflicts of interest.

To the contrary, Bautista asserted that his involvement with Crook had led to her abandoning prostitution and recovering from heroin addiction.

But the department countered with testimony by Chief Richard Martinez to the effect that Bautista’s relationship with Crook had undermined the department’s credibility and standing in the community.

“While we have some doubt whether evidence of actual harm to the Department was even necessary in this case,” the court concluded, “Chief Martinez’s testimony is sufficient evidence that Bautista’s conduct harmed the Department. (Bautista v. Los Angeles County)

So, it looks as though Bautista won’t be getting his job back as a deputy sheriff. He seems like a genuinely good guy, so let’s wish Emir and Shawn a long and happy life together.