FORT WORTH, Texas – The father of a Texas teenager who used an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck has been found guilty of falsely identifying himself as a peace officer.
Fred Couch, 51, was sentenced Wednesday in a Tarrant County courtroom to a year’s probation. If he violates the terms, he could be jailed for up to 120 days.
In a dashcam video shown to jurors, Couch is seen telling North Richland Hills police officers responding to a disturbance two years ago that he is a reserve officer.
Defense attorney Scott Brown argued to a jury this week that Couch, who carried a badge bearing the words “search and rescue” and “Lakeside Police,” never asserted authority with it.
Couch’s family has been embroiled in one legal drama after another in recent years.
His son, Ethan Couch, was 16 when he killed four people in a 2013 drunken-driving wreck. His blood-alcohol level was three times above the legal limit for adult drivers when the crash occurred. A defense expert invoked the term “affluenza” in arguing during the sentencing phase of the teenager’s trial that Couch’s wealthy parents may have coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility. The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its use drew widespread derision.
The case of Ethan Couch, now 19, led to a protracted legal battle in which his attorneys argued he should be tried in juvenile court. A judge ultimately moved the matter to adult court and he is now serving a nearly two-year jail term.
The younger Couch’s incarceration was triggered after it appeared he violated terms of his probation for the 2013 wreck when a video surfaced last December that showed him at a party with alcohol.
Couch then disappeared and Tarrant County authorities say he fled to Mexico with his mother, Tonya Couch. They were found a few weeks later in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta. Ethan Couch appeared to have grown a beard and dyed his hair black.
Tonya Couch subsequently was indicted on charges of hindering apprehension of a felon and money laundering. She was released from home confinement over the summer and was tending bar in suburban Fort Worth.
Her attorney, Stephanie Patten, has previously said her client did not break any state laws.
Fred and Tonya Couch are divorced.