Manatee sheriff's lieutenant charged with molesting juveniles, jailed

Herald staff writersMay 24, 2013 

MANATEE -- When allegations of inappropriate touching of juveniles were made against Lt. Dale Couch of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office in July 2012, Couch was immediately suspended from his job and an exhaustive investigation was set in motion.

The State Attorney's Office, saying it could not prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt after being sent the evidence, decided not to prosecute and Couch returned to work four months later on Nov. 22.

But on Thursday, armed with "additional information" received on March 25, the sheriff's office reopened the case and sent the new information to the State Attorney's Office, which this time recommended three charges.

Couch, a 50-year-old lawman with 20 years on the force, was put behind bars Thursday night.

The 36-page report from the original 2012 investigation states that Couch knew the two victims and that the alleged molestation was not a random act.

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

"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, a 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 said it has started the process of firing Couch, and that he currently is suspended without pay. Couch was placed on administrative leave with pay March 29.

Couch is appealing the attempt to fire him.

A hearing is set for Tuesday to determine whether Couch will be fired, according to sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow. The hearing is not open to the public, however the sheriff's office will issue a statement afterwards announcing the decision, Bristow said.

According to the arrest report, in the first two counts, Couch is charged with unlawfully touching the genitals, genital area, or the clothing covering them of a child a child younger 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.

Couch began his career in Manatee County Feb. 9, 1993 as a detention officer. In 1995 he transitioned from corrections to law enforcement when he entered the law enforcement academy as a recruit.

On Jan. 5, 1998, Couch submitted his resignation to the department, stating that he had accepted a position with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office. Two months later, on March 3, he rescinded his resignation.

He was appointed as a member of the SWAT team on Feb. 1, 2000, and served until November 21, 2005, when he resigned from the unit.

In 2007, Couch was promoted to his current rank of lieutenant, assigned to District 2's patrol unit.

Prior to joining the department, Couch was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in August 1992 after more than three years of service. Prior to that he served with the Marine Corps from 1981 to 1988.

In his 20 years of service, Couch has also been the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations for allegations of employee misconduct and conduct unbecoming, according to his personnel records.

On Jan. 3, 1994, a citizen complaint was filed against him for conduct unbecoming, but he was later exonerated.

On May 23, 1997, an allegation of employee misconduct was filed, but the investigation concluded with a "not-sustained" finding.

On April 14, 1998, a complaint was filed against Couch with allegations of conduct unbecoming, but the investigation concluded it was unfounded.

On April 13, 2012, conduct unbecoming allegations were placed on Couch, but he was later exonerated.

On Nov. 28, 2012, allegation of conduct unbecoming were placed but later cleared.

Steube confirmed Thursday that Couch is a brother of former sheriff's Capt. Ron Couch, who retired about a month ago after it was found he had pulled a gun on another deputy.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049.

Richard Dymond, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686

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