A Louisiana woman has been arrested for fatally shooting her estranged husband when they met to hand off their shared daughter on her second birthday, as she and two other children looked on, officials said.
Kayla Giles, 31, was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Thomas Coutee Jr., who was found shot in the chest in the parking lot of an Alexandria Walmart at about 11:15 a.m. on Sept. 8, police said.
Emergency responders tried to resuscitate Coutee, 30, but he could not be saved and died at the scene, authorities said.
Coutee was remembered by loved ones as loving and passionate about his work and family.
"We have heavy hearts today as we deal w the loss of a fellow competitor," Ford Brothers Racing, a competitive quad racing company, wrote on Facebook. “Thomas Coutee Jr. will be remembered for his kind heart, silliness and sweet Louisiana accent. We will miss you greatly. Prayers for your family."
Coutee worked as the welding coordinator at Central Louisiana Technical Community College.
“I love being a teacher and mentor to students,” he wrote in a March 7 Facebook post. “Being a Teacher is my true passion and career, and I am glad I chose this path in life.”
Giles was taken into custody in the parking lot, which was close to her home.
She and Coutee were meeting to exchange custody of their shared daughter, who turned 2 years old on that day.
The couple married in October 2014 but separated in February 2018. They were in the middle of a custody dispute at the time of Coutee’s death.
“Never beg for a friendship or relationship with anyone. If you don’t receive the same efforts you give, lose that contact,” Coutee posted on Facebook the same month he and Giles separated.
Coutee alleged that Giles had been abusive toward him, with his attorney filing a motion for a new trial that said 9th Judicial District Court Judge Patricia Koch’s Aug. 20 ruling awarding joint custody was “against the law and evidence,” court records obtained by the Alexandria Daily Town Talk showed.
Coutee claimed a “history of domestic abuse” at the hands of Giles existed during an Aug. 13 child custody hearing, according to the motion.
It also said that Louisiana law creates a presumption “that no parent who has a history of perpetuating family violence shall be awarded sole or joint custody of the children.”
Coutee’s attorney also had filed a protection order against Giles, but the three attempts made to serve it were unsuccessful, according to the Daily Town Talk.
There were reportedly no mentions of abuse in the filed documents until Coutee’s request for a new trial and his initial petition for divorce sought a joint custody arrangement.
But Coutee did make at least one report to Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office alleging abuse by Giles.
Giles allegedly slapped him on the left side of his face as he reached into her car to give their children a last hug during a custody exchange on May 22, according to a complaint Coutee filed six days later.
Coutee showed a photo of the injury he allegedly sustained as a result, which the deputy noted showed “redness on the left side of his jaw line below his left ear,” the paper reported.
Coutee also showed the deputy a screen shot of a text Giles allegedly sent to a mutual friend bragging about hitting him.
The text reportedly read that Giles “knocked the s*** out of Thomas. It felt good tho (sic)."
Coutee said he and Giles had been arguing over her boyfriend, who he claimed was a drug addict, and about Giles’ desire to move. Coutee declined to press charges, but said he wanted the complaint on file, the Daily Town Talk reported.
Permanent protective orders had been filed against both Giles and Coutee and were signed by Judge Koch on Aug. 20.
The orders both reportedly stated that the parties represented "a credible threat to the physical safety of the protected person" and that the orders had been issued after "actual notice and an opportunity to participate in a hearing was provided to the defendant."
Koch had set an Oct. 8 show cause hearing on Coutee's motion.
Giles was representing herself in the divorce and custody matters, court records showed.
She was being held without bond at the Rapides Parish Detention Center. A court date for Giles has not yet been set.
The three children present at the time of Coutee’s death were not injured. They were taken to APD headquarters, where the Department of Children and Family Services were contacted to make arrangements for their care. The children were later released to the custody of family members, police said.