TORRANCE — Manhattan Beach police had deployed a sex sting operation targeting gay males at a restroom along the beach, and Det. John Nasori, one of the undercover decoys, had his eyes on a suspect.
Charles Samuel Couch, 22, of Hawthorne, and a 13-year-old boy had walked into the bathroom, and Nasori assumed that behavior was suspicious. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Couch was a caregiver for the boy, who has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes learning disabilities and underdeveloped genitalia. It wasn’t uncommon for the boy to be in a restroom for more than 15 minutes. Couch’s job was a respite program for his Eagle Scout community project. Couch met the boy and his parents through church.
END OF NIGHTMARE?
Nasori, however, assumed otherwise, and Couch was falsely arrested in the March 9, 2012, undercover sting operation.
Five years later, Couch, 26, and a Philadelphia resident, still waits for the nightmare to end.
Today, Couch’s attorney, Bruce Nickerson, who identifies as gay, has a hearing in the Torrance Courthouse, where he will ask the court to grant a finding of factual innocence for the 2012 incident.
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However, Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said Deputy District Attorney Walter Quinteros-Perello will argue against that motion.
“Based on the police report, the initial filing was done properly,” Santiago said.
Nickerson is upset that the district attorney’s office will fight the motion for factual innocence.
“The police have signed all necessary documents saying we agree there should be a finding of factual innocence,” Nickerson said. “All this will do is destroy this man’s good name, which he had before this whole fiasco occurred.”
Outside the restroom, five undercover Manhattan Beach detectives confronted Couch, who was tackled, choked and handcuffed. Couch was taken to the city jail and interrogated for several hours before the police called the boy’s parents, who vouched for Couch. When Couch was free to leave, the police gave him paperwork saying he was released due to insufficient grounds for making a criminal complaint against the person arrested, according to court documents.
However, more than a month later, Couch was branded a suspected sex offender when the city released his name and photo to the Los Angeles-area news media. Several outlets, including the Daily Breeze, published the information.
Couch sued Manhattan Beach for discrimination, false arrest and violation of his civil rights, and they agreed to a $175,000 settlement in 2014, according to court documents.
Part of the settlement included Police Chief Eve Irvine signing a petition for Couch’s factual innocence, according to court documents.
SEX STING FIASCO
As for the police report, Nickerson said it is “an absolute pack of lies.”
On that March afternoon, Couch took the boy on an afternoon walk along the ocean near Marine Avenue and The Strand. The boy needed to go to the bathroom, and Couch found a public restroom. He escorted the boy inside and waited for him on a bench in the changing area.
When Nasori entered the restroom, he saw Couch sitting in the changing area, and entered the stall next to the boy’s and looked at him through a glory hole in the wall. A few minutes later, the boy bolted from the stall, and said, “There’s a man looking at me in the stall,” according to court documents.
Horrified, Couch told the boy to keep walking and they exited the bathroom. Couch was then confronted by five detectives in plain clothes, “resembling thugs,” according to court documents.
Thinking they wanted to kidnap the boy, Couch grabbed him to protect him. Moments later, they tackled Couch to the ground and arrested him. Couch didn’t know the men were police officers until he was taken to jail, according to court documents.
COMPUTER TAKEN, ARRESTED AGAIN
While Couch was being interrogated, the police found and kept his laptop. Nasori said in the police report that Couch used it to commit a felony — Even though Couch was released due to insufficient evidence.
Because the police didn’t return the laptop, which contained all of Couch’s school work, for several months, Couch was forced to drop out from El Camino College.
In February 2013, almost 1 year from the initial sex-sting fiasco and after he was given paperwork saying no evidence existed to arrest him, Manhattan Beach police arrested Couch, and he was charged with two misdemeanor counts — one for resisting arrest and one for assaulting a police officer — but a judge dismissed the case, according to court documents.
Nickerson hopes today’s court hearing will be the end of the road for this more than 5-year ordeal.
“The only thing remaining to right this wrong — to give this man back what he one had — is a factual finding of innocence,” Nickerson said. “This will restore to him his good name forever.”
Editor’s note: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Spokesman Ricardo Santiago’s quote had wrong information. It has been corrected.