Manatee sheriff's lieutenant remains in jail as judge considers evidence he may be a threat

jdeleon@bradenton.comMay 25, 2013 

MANATEE -- A Manatee County Sheriff's Office lieutenant remained in jail Friday on charges of child molestation as a judge considers new evidence that he may be a threat to the community.

"I received evidence that, in December of 2012, the defendant made some disclosures and statements that he had no intention of ever going to prison ... that he would take people down, that he was stockpiling weapons," Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff told Judge Robert A. Farrance during a hearing Friday.

Lt. Dale Couch, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was arrested Thursday and charged with three counts of child molestation. Investigators say the improper touching occurred between Oct. 15, 2009, and July 25, 2012. Couch knew the two reported victims.

In light of the new evidence, Farrance continued the hearing until 8 a.m. Saturday so that the evidence could be investigated, as well as presented to Couch's attorney.

"I'm not so sure we don't need to get those into evidence and find out more about it," Farrance said. "I'm not adverse to going back to it tomorrow morning."

Couch was being held on no bond Friday. But Farrance said he presumed Couch, 50, will be able to post bond on the molestation charges.

"There will be a bond," Farrance said. "He is entitled to a bond."

"He is being housed in an undisclosed facility for his own safety," defense attorney Greg Hagopian said.

Hagopian urged the judge to set a modest monetary bond with the condition of no contact.

"Obviously, there is a danger for him to remain incarcerated being that he is in law enforcement," Hagopian said. "His name has been all over the newspaper, all over the radio, all over the TV."

He also said that Couch's reputation has been tarnished. "Mr. Couch adamantly denies these accusations and he welcomes the opportunity to clear his name and reputation that has been smeared in the media already," Hagopian said.

"He has defended himself and cooperated the whole time since July," referring to when Couch was first investigated last year on the molestation accusations.

Hagopian questioned the amount of time that has passed since the original investigation was closed in November after the state attorney's office decided not to prosecute, and when it was reopened this past March after new evidence was provided to investigators.

"The disclosure came about after a short time of therapy," Buff said, referring to one of the victims. "It came about as a situation where in therapy it was disclosed, she had an opportunity to talk about it, she was upset and embarrassed."

Couch has been suspended without pay, and the sheriff's office is trying to fire him. State law requires that he be granted a hearing.

That hearing is set for Tuesday, according to sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow. The hearing is not open to the public, but the sheriff's office will issue a statement announcing the decision, Bristow said.

Before his arrest, Couch had been on administrative leave with pay since March 29, when the investigation was reopened.

Couch began his career in Manatee County on Feb. 9, 1993, as a detention officer before making the transition from corrections to law enforcement in 1995.

Through the years he made his way up the ranks until a promotion in 2007 to his current rank of lieutenant, assigned to District 2's patrol unit.

Couch has received numerous recognitions during his career. He also been the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations, including for employee misconduct and conduct unbecoming, according to his personnel file.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.