Trial and Tribulations

As a cop, she fantasized about testifying against a killer. As a hooker, she got her chance.

Joanne didn't know how to respond. She panicked and denied the whole story. She didn't even know where Manzanilla was, she told the reporter. Then she hung up, reeling.

Where had the information come from? According to Internal Affairs, Captain Britton, who was soon to retire from the force, had claimed he'd overheard the Cordova sisters talking about the test in a bar. But that was ridiculous. For one thing, Joanne never went to bars with her sister. Although he would later deny it to her face, she believed the accusation could only have originated with Truman Leuthauser.

The day after the call, the Denver Post ran a story under the headline "Cop on the beach as sister took examination."

At first Cordova dared to hope that the incident would blow over. I didn't commit a crime, she told herself. I cheated. I got through the academy on my own...I'm a good cop. But while several of her supervisors came to her defense and said she was a fine officer, neither the newspapers nor the Denver district attorney were going to let it drop.

Three days after the story broke, Joanne Cordova resigned from the police department and gave up the only dream she'd ever really had.

Devastated, she couldn't eat or sleep. Former partners and colleagues called to check up on her, worried she might do something drastic. But while she didn't want to live anymore, neither could she kill herself.

It was her mother who insisted that Joanne not take the betrayal lying down. "Don't you let that man do that to you," she said. "Fight back."

Joanne thought about what her mother had said. Of all the men who had hurt her--the molester, the neighborhood boys, Wayne Moore--none had hurt her like Truman Leuthauser.

She got angry--and then she got even. Leuthauser wasn't the only one who could cast a few stones.

Joanne went to Internal Affairs and gave a 77-page deposition that, among other things, identified which of Leuthauser's outside activities she thought the department would find questionable. And it had been Leuthauser's idea that her sister take the entrance exam, she told the investigators. She figured the department would want to know how one of its senior officers had steered a naive, 22-year-old woman.

In August the Rocky Mountain News broke the story that Leuthauser was under investigation by his own department for improperly using the police laboratory and other facilities for his private projects. He was also being questioned about accepting consulting fees while conducting police business.

The article mentioned Joanne Cordova, who was still facing charges, only in passing. It quoted former Captain Britton, who had since taken a job with Associated Grocers, as saying he'd had no knowledge of Leuthauser accepting fees while officially on that job as a detective. Other AG officials, however, told the newspaper that Leuthauser had worked for them on a daily basis and was paid between $20 to $30 an hour.

Leuthauser resigned from the police department. He kept his consulting business, but Cordova's name was removed from the official paperwork.

Ultimately, the Cordova sisters received deferred sentences. If they stayed out of trouble, the charges would be removed from their records.

Joanne Cordova did not stay out of trouble.

On May 7, 1997, Joanne Cordova was walking across Colfax Avenue when a man in a blue minivan pulled up. "Hi," he called out. "Can I ask you something?"

Cordova stopped and peered inside the van. She didn't know the man--a white guy with strange, pale eyes--but she recognized the woman in the passenger seat as another Capitol Hill hooker.

The man said he was Bob Davis and introduced the hooker as "my wife, Debbie Davis." He was trying to buy his wife some cocaine. Did Cordova know where they might find some?

That Cordova recognized a local hooker and knew exactly where to find cocaine showed how far she'd fallen since 1985. She'd lost her job, lost her jewels, lost her cars, lost her home... lost her self-respect.

All she had left were a few clothes, a crack pipe and her life. Such as it was.

It wasn't like she'd resigned from the force and woken up the next day a crack-addicted prostitute. The slide had taken some time. But each time she dropped lower, she could trace her fall back to that newspaper headline: Cop on the beach as sister took examination.

At first she drowned the pain with alcohol. Then in 1990, she was introduced to crack cocaine. Like freebase, it was a smokeable form of the drug. But unlike freebase, it left its users jonesing for more. Snorters and freebase users always wanted more coke; crack addicts had to have it.

For crack, she'd screwed up a good job she had with American Express. After stealing about $13,000 from the company, she'd spent eleven months in prison, losing custody of the only truly wonderful thing that had happened to her since 1985, her daughter. Still, she knew the girl was better off with her father, a one-night stand who wouldn't even let Cordova see the girl.

Out of prison in January 1995 and on parole, Cordova had stayed clean for ten months, working two jobs, saving her money, living with her son and his girlfriend.

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