Manatee deputy to stay jailed; hearing set Tuesday

Bradenton HeraldMay 25, 2013 

— A Manatee County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant will remain in jail on charges of child molestation through the holiday weekend as a judge calls for a hearing Tuesday morning to explore evidence that he may be a threat to the community.

“I’m a little wary of setting a monetary bond,” Judge Robert A. Farrance said. “It runs a full spectrum of possibilities.”

Lt. Dale Couch, a 20-year veteran of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, was arrested on three counts of child molestation Thursday. The charges allege that he inappropriately touched two juveniles multiple times between Oct. 15, 2009, and July 25, 2012. The victims and Couch knew one another.

Assistant State attorney Dawn Buff filled a motion for pretrial detention Saturday morning, based on evidence brought forward by a therapist saying that Couch had made threatening statements Dec. 11. The therapist came forward on her own on Thursday after learning of his arrest, feeling obligated to come forward.

“At the time of the statement was made, the initial charges had already been declined and the statement was made that if he was arrested on this that he would not be going to prison,” Buff said. “So it did not become imminent information until he was arrested.”

Buff learned of the new evidence just before Couch’s initial first appearance on Friday.

“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,” Buff told Farrance Friday.

In light of the evidence Farrance felt a full evidentiary hearing was needed before he could set a monetary bond.

Defense attorney Greg Hagopian had no knowledge of the alleged comments from December until Saturday morning when it was presented to him. “I would asked you to strike this,” Hagopain said.

He urged Farrance to set bond because the motion was filed at last minute.

“I suggest to you that this is untimely because you had already indicated that you were going to set a monetary bond,” Hagopain said.

“A motion for pretrial detention requires a hearing, a full evidentiary hearing,” Farrance said. “I feel a certain responsibility in first appearance to set a bond under the rules.”

Farrance said he would speak to the judge presiding over the case, Judge Thomas Krug, over the weekend in order to expedite the hearing. “I don’t want Mr. Couch to have to unnecessarily detained,” Farrance said.

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

His hearing is tentatively set for Tuesday but the department will wait to see what happens in court, 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 after new evidence came forward.

The original investigation in 2012 began after a complaint was filed July 25, 2012. Couch was then suspended for four months and did not return to work until Nov. 22. Couch began his career at Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 9, 1993, as a detention officer and then later in 1995 he made the transition from corrections to law enforcement.

Throughout the years he was promoted up through the ranks to his current rank of lieutenant in 2007, assigned to District 2’s patrol unit.

Coach also served as a member of the SWAT team member from 2000-2005.

Throughout his career, Couch has been the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations, that include complaints filed against him for employee misconduct and conduct unbecoming, according to his personnel file.

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