TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston was working as a new police officer a decade and a half ago when she met 15-year-old Rita Girven.
Houston bought baby clothes for Girven, who was pregnant with her first child. The pair crossed paths occasionally over the years, according to Houston, but didn’t become regular fixtures in each other’s lives until about nine years ago, when Girven gave birth a fourth time.
Even though Houston told prosecutors she never had any desire to be a mother, she eventually adopted the baby girl. She and her now-husband, fellow Tampa police officer Eric Houston, got married to protect their new daughter’s interests, she said.
Those details came out Tuesday when prosecutors released transcripts of a Feb. 24 sworn statement in which Houston answered questions from assistant state attorney Sheri Maxim. The document shed more light on the unusual relationship Girven, now 31, had with the couple. Both Houstons have been fired from the Tampa Police Department following separate criminal investigations involving Girven.
Houston was arrested in October and faces charges of welfare fraud and grand theft after investigators said she used Girven’s food stamp card last year to buy groceries while Girven was in jail. Eric Houston, who worked as a homicide detective with the department, is under federal investigation after authorities said he and Girven used information obtained through police databases to file fraudulent tax returns. He has not been charged with a crime.
Court documents have portrayed Girven as a long-time confidential informant for the police department with connections to many officers. She is currently in jail without bail after she was arrested last August on charges of welfare fraud and grand theft.
Large portions of Houston’s testimony are blacked out so the transcript does not reveal why or how she gained access to Girven’s food stamp card. But Houston told prosecutors that she took Girven’s purse and cell phone after Girven asked her to hold onto the items for safekeeping after Girven was arrested. Girven’s purse was put in a storage unit with all her other belongings after it became clear she would be remaining in jail, Houston said.
Girven never worked as an informant on any of Houston’s cases, but did occasionally pass information to her husband and other Tampa police officers, Houston said.
Girven would sometimes call Houston from jail. But Houston was insistent that — despite their years-long relationship — she never considered Girven a “close friend.”
“To me, a good friend is not someone that you’re trying to constantly help,” Houston told prosecutors.
Houston said she was being kind to Girven when she bought baby clothes for her. And years later, when Girven called Eric Houston to inform the couple that she was having her fourth child, Houston agreed to help babysit the child, and spent $1,000 during a trip to Walmart to convert their third bedroom into a nursery.
For the first few months, the Houstons would pick up the baby from Girven on Thursday nights and return her on Mondays, Houston said. Sometimes, the couple had trouble locating Girven to return the baby to her. They put the child in daycare and arranged for Girven to pick her up.
Eventually, the couple decided to adopt the child. They got married in 2007 so the child, who is now 9 years old, could be named a beneficiary on their insurance in case something happened to either one of them, Houston said.
Girven agreed to the adoption and the Houstons allowed her to maintain a relationship with the child.
Houston faces up to 15 years in prison for the fraud and theft charges, prosecutors said. The transcripts indicate that her defense lawyer had mentioned to prosecutors the possibility of entering Houston into a pre-trial intervention program.
Her lawyer, Lyann Goudie, declined to comment Tuesday on any plea deals that are or could be discussed regarding her client.
No matter what happens, Houston said, she does not want to resume any relationship with Girven. And she would like to get her job at the police department back.
“I think we’ve all made mistakes,” Houston said in the transcript. “There’s other people at TPD that have been arrested and been able to get their jobs back.”