The father of the North Texas teenager notorious for his “affluenza” defense in a deadly drunk-driving accident has been found guilty of impersonating a police officer.
Authorities have said that 51-year-old Fred Couch showed them a badge and told them he was a reserve officer responding to a disturbance in 2014 in a small town outside Fort Worth, according to NBC DFW. He was charged with falsely identifying himself as a reserve officer for Lakeside police, which is a misdemeanor, according to the news station.
On Wednesday, Couch was convicted and sentenced to 120 days in jail, but given a year of probation instead of time behind bars, a court clerk confirmed to The Washington Post.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Couch was a volunteer with Lakeside’s search-and-rescue team, but that the volunteers are not considered reserve officers.
“He was trying to help his community,” defense attorney Scott Brown told jurors during the trial, according to the Star-Telegram. “How is that being above the law?”
Couch’s then 16-year-old son, Ethan, made national news in 2013 when he killed four people during a drunk-driving accident. The teen was later discovered to be driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit and traces of Valium in his system when he crashed into passersby who had stopped to help a stranded motorist on a Texas roadway, authorities said.
At trial, Ethan Couch’s lawyer argued that he was a spoiled, rich teenager whose privilege prevented him from distinguishing right from wrong – a condition the defense called “affluenza.” He was sentenced to drug-and-alcohol-free probation for 10 years as well as time in a rehabilitation center – a sentence many people considered too soft.
His case resurfaced late last year after a video emerged online showing a young man who resembled then 18-year-old Ethan Couch engaging in a beer-pong game – a possible probation violation.
Around the same time, he failed to show up for a probation meeting. It was soon discovered that Ethan Couch and his mother had fled to Mexico. They were detained in December 2015 in the resort of Puerto Vallarta and sent back to the United States. His mother, Tonya Couch, was charged with hindering apprehension of a felon but has been free on bond.
As The Post reported earlier this year, Couch, now 19, was sentenced to 180 consecutive days in jail for each of his four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
In the 2014 incident involving his father, Fred Couch, a resident said he told police that Couch was armed and had showed up at his door about a disturbance that had occurred days earlier, according to NBC DFW. The resident, Keith Capo, told the news station that when officers from the North Richland Hills Police Department arrived, he told them he wanted to press charges but claims they tried to talk him out of it.
During the trial, jurors saw dashboard-camera video from North Richland Hills police, showing Fred Couch telling officers he was a reserve officer, according to the Star-Telegram.
“For some reason, he thought he was entitled,” prosecutor Lloyd Whelchel told jurors, according to the newspaper. “He wasn’t.”
Fred Couch will serve time in jail for the crime only if he violates the terms of his probation; then, he could serve up to 120 days behind bars, according to news reports.