MANATEE - A Manatee County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant charged with child molestation has resigned from the sheriff's office.
In an letter dated May 23 Lt. Dale Couch, charged with three counts of child molestation, cited “personal reasons” for his resignation, effective immediately. The sheriff's office said it received the letter on Tuesday.
Couch had been suspended without pay, and the sheriff’s office was trying to fire him. State law requires that a hearing be granted; the hearing had been set for Tuesday.
Judge Thomas Krug set bonds totalling $207,500 for Couch.
“I am denying the motion for pretrial detention," Krug said. “A bond is reasonable in this case and these circumstances.”
Tuesday’s hearing had been called after Assistant State Attorney Dawn Buff filed a motion asking that Couch be held without bond pending trial. Judge Robert A Farrance had delayed setting bond on Friday after Buff said she had just received information that Couch had made threatening comments that made him a danger to the community.
“The statements of the therapist is concerning to the court,” Krug said. “That statement coupled with the multiple firearms and ammunition is of concern to the court.”
Krug said the threat was of concern enough that a high bond was necessary.
Couch was also ordered to be on supervised released if he makes his bond. He will be required to wear an ankle bracelet and he is not permitted to have any contact with the victims or their father.
Other conditions of his release were that he could not posses any firearms and that all his firearms be turned over to the sheriff’s office.
Couch’s former therapist took the stand in Tuesday’s hearing.
“On that day during a session he said that it was a good thing he wasn’t going to be charged with molestation because as a law enforcement officer he couldn’t go to prison and that he was not going alive and neither were they,” Jane Vittitoe said.
Buff said that Vittitoe came forward because she felt obligated to warn of any threat despite that existence of privilege.
“He had been a sniper and he had a list of the people that had come up with the charges and they would be going down with him,” Vittitoe added.
Vittitoe felt the danger became imminent once she learned of Couch’s arrest.
Couch’s attorney Greg S. Hagopian questioned whether the removal of the firearms from the home and that he went peacefully at the time of arrest gave her comfort. She said yes.
Sheriff's Major Connie Shingledecker also took the stand and was questioned about her involvement in Couch’s arrest. She said Couch was taken into custody without incident.
The defense also called Ken Smith, a long time friend of Coach’s to the stand.
Smith says that he went to the Couch home and was assisted by Coach’s wife in collecting all the firearms and ammunition in the home. Three long guns, a handgun and a quantity of ammunition were found in the master bedroom in addition to one gun in a lock safe.
“We looked here and there, anywhere else they might be,” Smith said.
When questioned by Buff, however, he said he only looked in the living room and kitchen himself, not in any other bedrooms or office.
Smith said he could not be certain there were no other guns in the home.
“I think there was even ammunition for odd things that weren’t in the pile,” Smith said.
Prior to being arrested and resigning, Couch had been on administrative leave with pay since March 29, when an earlier investigation was reopened after the sheriff's office said it received new evidence in the case.
A complaint was filed July 25, 2012. At the time Couch was suspended for four months and did not return to work until Nov. 22.