The father of “affluenza teen” Ethan Couch was wearing a Lakeside police badge on the morning of July 28, 2014, when North Richland Hills police encountered him on a disturbance call, according to court testimony Tuesday.
Prosecutors presented witnesses who told a jury of four men and two women that Fred Couch represented himself as a Lakeside reserve officer that day. Couch is on trial on the Class B misdemeanor charge.
“He told two officers that he was a reserve officer at Lakeside,” co-prosecutor Kyle Russo told the jury in County Criminal Court No. 4 in his opening statement.
Couch, 51, pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning, on the first day of testimony. His defense attorneys argued that he isn’t guilty of the charge of false identification as a peace officer just because he had the badge.
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“He owns a sheet metal company,” defense attorney Reagan Wynn said in his opening statement. “And he’s a member of the Lakeside search-and-rescue team. The badge he was given says that.”
The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and a $2,000 fine.
Prosecutors needed just over five hours to present a series of witnesses who told the jury that Couch was not an officer or reserve police officer at Lakeside. They rested their case Tuesday afternoon.
North Richland Hills officers told jurors they believed that Couch was a Lakeside reserve officer when they encountered him in 2014.
“He acted as a police officer,” Detective Michael Nelson told the jury.
In a dash-cam video that jurors watched, Couch told officers that he was a reserve officer.
Couch had a Lakeside badge with the words search and rescue on it. Lakeside had created a volunteer search-and-rescue group in 2003, and at least three badges were passed out to the volunteers, but the group did not involve full-time police officers or reserves, according to testimony.
The North Richland Hills incident began when patrol officers responded to a disturbance call at a residence at 1:17 a.m. July 28, 2014, in the 4400 block of Mackey Drive.
“When officers arrived, he was there,” investigator Keith Bauman said in a news release. “Officers didn’t know if he was a witness or what, but he had been in the area.”
As officers investigated, Couch stated he was a reserve officer in Lakeside, near Lake Worth, about 15 miles west of North Richland Hills.
After completing the call on Mackey Drive, officers reconnected with Couch at the scene and he talked to them about the Lakeside Police Department and told them that he had his “police stuff” in his truck.
Couch reached into his pickup, took out his wallet and displayed what appeared to be a police badge and an identification card, suggesting that he was a police officer.
Officers soon allowed Couch and everyone else to leave the scene, North Richland Hills police said.
Detectives continued to investigate and determined that he wasn’t a reserve officer in Lakeside.
It was in Lakeside where, on Feb. 19, 2013, police found Ethan Couch with a can of beer and a bottle of vodka. A Lakeside officer gave him citations for being a minor in possession of alcohol and for consuming alcohol as a minor, according to previous news reports.
In March 2013, Ethan Couch pleaded no contest in both cases and received a probation sentence. As terms of his probation, he agreed to take an alcohol awareness class and participate in 12 hours of community service, to be completed by June 19, 2013.
But about 11:45 p.m. June 15, 2013, Ethan Couch was driving drunk when he caused a crash in the 1500 block of Burleson Retta Road in south Tarrant County, killing Breanna Mitchell, 24; Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter Shelby, 21; and Brian Jennings, 41.
The Couch family has made national news ever since.
The trial for Fred Couch resumes Wednesday.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.