UPDATE: (1/14/2020) WINNSBORO, La. (AP) — A Louisiana district attorney says a former principal at a Christian school has pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile stemming from encounters with underage male students.
District Attorney Mack Lancaster says Stephen Couch of Winnsboro accepted a plea deal in 5th Judicial District Court on Monday. He could spend up to 7 years in prison and face a $5,000 fine per count when sentenced in May.
The News-Star reports Winnsboro previously worked at Apostolic Tabernacle Christian School in Franklin Parish.
ORIGINAL: (12/14/2018) WINNSBORO, La. — A former principal at a Christian school as well as a pastor’s son is accused of molesting students and getting away with it for years.
At least 5 victims have come forward and are now suing the accused, the school, the church and the pastor.
KTVE/KARD spoke with one of the alleged victims for the first time.
Accusers say Stephen Couch has put them through hell.
Codie Orten tells us Couch started abusing him when he was 15 years old and continued for years.
Codie Orten grew up at the Apostolic Tabernacle Church.
It was his place of worship and his school, but it was also a place where he was betrayed by someone he’d known his whole life.
“It all started back in 2008 when I was about 15. It continued on until I left there like a year and a half ago,” says Codie Dwayne Orten, victim.
Orten says Stephen Couch, a teacher and principal at the school, touched him inappropriately for years.
“Whether it was at my desk, him helping me with my math, or in and out of the school when nobody else was around,” says Orten.
Orten believes Couch had a method of grooming his victims.
“He had a way of being your friend. You know he was very helpful when it came to school and stuff,” says Orten.
Over time, Couch would start pushing boundaries.
Orten wasn’t alone. At least 4 other victims have come forward.
“It wasn’t just me that he targeted. You know, there was all of the rest of them that was targeted also,” says Orten.
A feeling that left Orten and the other victims feeling helpless.
“Like myself and like the rest, we didn’t know what to do or say because he was the pastor’s son, he was a principal you know, he played the piano for the church,” says Orten.
In a lawsuit, 5 victims spell out what they call the ‘hellish’ behavior of a man who was supposed to protect them, but instead took advantage of them.
Orten is seeking justice not just for himself but for the others.
“Knowing from my experience if I would have said something from the very start, how many other young guys would have not been affected,” says Orten.
Attorney Richard Fewell is representing the victims in a lawsuit against the church, school, Stephen Couch and Michael Couch, the head pastor of the church.
Fewell believes the church and pastor Michael Couch knew about the acts.
“Mr. Couch, the principal’s behavior was an abomination honestly, and I think his father knew about it from his past behavior and did not investigate or has facilitated by putting him in a position to do this to little boys,” says Richard Fewell, Attorney representing victims in lawsuit.
After telling his parents about what happened last year, his father brought the issue to the pastors of the church.
“Wanting to do the right thing he took it to the pastors and there was several other pastors that came in and he admitted in front of everybody what he had done. So a friend of mine turned it into the law there in Winnsboro and it just went from there,” says Orten.
Since that meeting, the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office did an initial investigation and victims testified in front of grand jury.
Couch was then indicted on 5 counts of molestation and 6 counts of prohibited sexual contact between an educator and student. Couch plead not guilty.
“He knows he’s wrong, he knows exactly what he’s done and he’ll have to face that,” says Orten.
KTVE/KARD reached out to both the Apostolic Tabernacle Church and Couch’s Attorney, but have not received a comment.
The district attorney says the next hearing is January 8, 2019 to discuss a possible plea deal.
Couch’s trial is set for January 22, 2019.