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Ashby does him one better in that regard: She sets up a meeting with a friend still serving in the Sheriff's Office, Deputy James Harrison. A former internal-affairs investigator who regularly checked into complaints about officers, Harrison now works out of Port Everglades. He and Ashby met at Cathode Ray, a gay club on East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
Harrison agrees that Ashby did good police work in general. And he says that, by embarrassing the department with details of her personal life, she could easily have lost her job. But discrimination against her -- or a slipshod investigation of her lesbian affair -- is not enough to say that antigay treatment is departmentwide, Harrison tells Ashby. "I just don't see it," he says. "I haven't noticed that, and I know a number of gay officers. It might have happened to you because this is a touchy subject for them when it goes public."
The embarrassment of a romantic triangle exposed throughout the 3300-person Sheriff's Office probably seemed unimaginable to the deputies involved in the months before it happened.
At 35 years of age, Ashby was finally doing what she had long desired -- working the streets, going after criminals, even helping the suspects she arrested by showing them a steady, firm compassion, she says.
"She was always aggressive, forward, sort of like that," Cucchiaro explains. "But she treated people fairly." Ashby also proved tough and dependable in dangerous situations, the make-or-break duty that often reveals whether young officers are temperamentally fit to serve as cops.
On one particular night, she and Vosburgh came upon an armed robbery taking place in the back of an ice cream truck, according to the citation she later received. Ashby disarmed the gunman and forced him to surrender, handcuffing him, while Vosburgh took the weapon. "In all, two armed robbery cases were solved with the astute, heroic and professional demeanor demonstrated by these two fairly new employees," reads the November 1997 citation, which led to their nominations as Deputies of the Month.
Although she received another commendation the following April, it did nothing to alter her fate.
"If you're part of the boys' club and you have a divorce with a domestic abuse complaint, no one I know of gets fired," Cucchiaro says. But Ashby is a lesbian. He defines what happened to her as a case of sexual discrimination -- and the power of a single telephone call. "You'd think your personal life is your domain, that if you're doing your job honestly, that's what counts," he says. "But in reality all it takes is a phone call [to Internal Affairs]. Instead of worrying that she might be the victim, they took the easier route: She was fired."