Before driving off to Mexico last month with her 18-year-old son and their dog, Tonya Couch withdrew $30,000 from a bank account and told her husband that he would never see their son again, according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained Friday by the Star-Telegram.
The affidavit ticks off the days starting Dec. 2 when Ethan Couch was first suspected of violating his probation — a sentence assessed in juvenile court for driving drunk and killing four people — and continuing until the Couches were detained in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Dec. 28.
Ethan Couch was “scared” after a video surfaced on Dec. 2 showing someone who looked like him at a beer pong party, the affidavit said. That could lead to probation revocation and detention.
His mother was aware that Ethan Couch was trying to come up with a plausible lie about the video and say he was not in it, the affidavit said.
On Dec. 3, Ethan Couch’s probation officer “asked [him] to report for a drug test.” He did not respond to that call or subsequent calls and did not appear for a scheduled meeting with the probation officer on Dec. 10.
The investigator contacted her husband, Fred Couch, on Dec. 16. Couch said his wife had told him that she was concerned that their son’s probation would be revoked, according to the affidavit.
The investigator served a search warrant for Tonya Couch’s financial records and found that she had withdrawn $30,000 from a personal account. The investigator saw no account activity after Dec. 3.
Witnesses told the investigator that Tonya Couch was present on Dec. 3 when her son discussed traveling to Mexico.
The investigator also learned that after Dec. 3, phone numbers routinely used by Tonya Couch and her son were no longer active, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
The investigator found that Ethan Couch does not have a driver’s license or own a vehicle, but Tonya Couch owned a black 2011 Ford F150 pickup, the affidavit said.
An unnamed witness told the investigator that the pickup, carrying Ethan and Tonya Couch and a dog, was driven to Mexico before Dec. 17.
The officer who submitted the affidavit is an Arlington police sergeant assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service North Texas Fugitive Task Force.
Ethan Couch’s name was redacted before the affidavit was released, but it is clear from context who the officer was referring to.
In a court filing Thursday, Tonya Couch’s attorney, Stephanie Patten, argued that the arrest warrant was not valid because the supporting affidavit lacked probable cause and/or contained false information knowingly and intentionally included “with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Mother in jail
Tonya Couch was returned in handcuffs to Tarrant County on Thursday, and on Friday she made her first appearance before a Tarrant County judge.
Couch, wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit, heard the charge against her — hindering apprehension, a third-degree felony. State District Judge Wayne Salvant told Couch to surrender her passport; Couch said she does not have one.
Couch’s bail remains at $1 million. A bail reduction hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Salvant said he would attach “a lot of restrictions” to Tonya Couch’s bail, including wearing a GPS-type device on her ankle.
Asked by Salvant if she was competent, Couch smiled and said, “I think so.”
She also told Salvant that she and Ethan’s father, Fred Couch, are still married. Previous reports indicated that the couple had divorced in Johnson County in 2006 and remarried in 2011.
Fred Couch filed for the current divorce in August, accusing Tonya Couch of “cruel treatment” toward him, but the divorce has not become final, according to court records.
Tonya Couch was housed by herself in a cell Thursday night in the maximum-security Lon Evans Corrections Center at 600 W. Weatherford St., Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said.
Anderson said Couch, 48, told him that she couldn’t sleep well because the jail lights were too bright and other inmates were watching her.
“She expressed a slight bit of displeasure about her accommodations,” Anderson said. “I explained to her that this is a jail, not a resort.”
In a news release sent out Friday afternoon, Patten and co-counsel Stephen Gordon accused Anderson, who is running for reelection, of “political posturing.”
The news release sarcastically thanked Anderson “for taking time out of his busy day … to personally escort a 5’11”, 110 pound handcuffed and leg shackled female who was guarded by at least 2 armed deputies. … He was also kind enough to make sure she was booked into the ‘Super Max’ unit of the jail, normally reserved for those accused of extremely violent or capital crimes …
“We would ask that now that Ms. Couch is back in Tarrant County, that the process begin in an orderly and lawful way, as it has been for many years in this County …”
She expressed a bit of displeasure about her accommodations. I explained to her that this is a jail, not a resort.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson
In her petition filed Thursday, Patten asked the court to reduce Tonya Couch’s bail to $15,000 cash or surety. Patten pointed out that the magistrate who signed the arrest warrant set bail at $10,000.
On Dec. 31, a judge sua sponte (of his own accord) raised the bail to $1 million, her petition said.
The recommended bond amount on a third-degree felony is $2,500, according to the Tarrant County Bond Schedule.
Patten missed Friday’s hearing because she was stuck in traffic.
Ethan Couch remains in a detention center in Mexico City after taking legal action to delay his deportation to the United States.
Ryan Osborne: 817-390-7684, @RyanOsborneFWST