Manatee sheriff's lieutenant charged with child molestation

May 23, 2013 

MANATEE -- A Manatee County Sheriff's Office lieutenant has been arrested and charged with three counts of molesting a child, according to the sheriff's office.

Lt. Dale Couch, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was arrested Thursday after the state attorney's office decided to file charges.

The sheriff's office said it has started the process of firing Couch, and that he currently is suspended without pay. He currently is being held without bond at undisclosed facility, said Sheriff Brad Steube.

"It has been a very disturbing day," Steube said. "We had to arrest one of our own on some very serious charges."

Steube confirmed that Lt. Couch and former sheriff's Capt. Ron Couch, who retired about a month ago found he had pulled a gun on another deputy, are brothers.

"The capias request was for no bond, but he (Couch) will have his first appearance before a judge at 1 p.m. Friday and at that time bond could be granted," Steube said.

Steube also said that Couch will not be booked into the Manatee jail.

"He has been taken to another facility to ensure his safety," Steube said.

The sheriff's office began investigating Couch after receiving information on March 25, according to a news release.

An arrest warrant affidavit offers a few details about the charges.

In the first two counts, Couch is charged with molesting a child less than 12 years old, first in the period between Oct. 15, 2009, and Oct. 14, 2011; and then in 2012, between March 1 and July 25.

The third count charges him with molesting a child between 12 and 16 years old between Oct. 15, 2011, and July 25, 2012.

For each charge, prosecutors say the molestations happened "on one or more occasions." The affidavit does not state the number of possible victims.

It was at least the second time the sheriff's office had investigated Couch after receiving information that he had improperly touched children.

In July 2012, the sheriff's office opened an investigation after receiving information about "criminal acts of inappropriate touching of a juvenile" by Couch, the report states. During the investigation, Couch was suspended, according to the sheriff's office.

The case was closed after the state attorney's office decided not to prosecute Couch and he returned to work.

"On March 25, 2013, MSO received additional information in connection with this case. The investigation was reopened and once again forwarded to the SAO who decided charges would be filed," a news release states.

Couch is appealing the attempt to fire him. A hearing has been set for next week, according to the sheriff's office.

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