Christopher Tapp is suing the city of Idaho Falls and several former Idaho Falls Police Department officers after he was wrongfully imprisoned for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge.
"I'm hoping that this nightmare will come to an end," Tapp said in an interview with the Post Register. "I've been living it for the last 23 years of my life."
The lawsuit was filed Thursday morning in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho.
Within the lawsuit are the most serious accusations of misconduct ever filed against the Idaho Falls Police Department. The officers involved in the case are accused of fabricating evidence, coercing confessions and testimony, committing perjury and covering up exculpatory evidence.
Tapp was incarcerated for 20 years after police said he confessed to being a participant in the murder that shocked Idaho Falls. His confession drew scrutiny over the years, particularly after a review by Judges for Justice determined his confession was coerced by IFPD officers and he was fed information that police later claimed he provided independently. That information was compelling evidence of guilt for the jury since it was presented as information only the killer could have known.
As the years dragged on Tapp also received support from an unexpected source: Carol Dodge, Angie's mother, who had originally wanted him to receive the death penalty. Carol Dodge, who for years conducted her own investigation into her daughter's murder, spoke in Tapp's defense after reviewing recordings of his interrogation. She also pushed the police department to continue searching for the source of the DNA, the person who killed Angie.
In 2019, Brian Leigh Dripps, of Caldwell, was arrested after his DNA was found to match a semen sample recovered from the crime scene. He confessed to raping and murdering Dodge, and said he did so alone. Dripps is facing charges of rape and first-degree murder. His confession is the subject of a motion by his attorneys, who say it should be suppressed after they accused police detectives of not informing him of his rights.
A week after Dripps' arrest Destiny Osborne, who two decades earlier had testified that she overheard Tapp discussing the murder, told the Post Register she had been threatened with arrest by police officers if she did not testify against Tapp.
On July 17, 2019, Tapp was exonerated after Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark filed a motion requesting the court dismiss the conviction against him.
Seven officers are named as defendants in Tapp's lawsuit against the city and the police department: Former detective and Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman, former detectives Steve Finn, Ken Brown and Phillip Grimes, former sergeant Curtis Stacey, former IFPD Chief Kent Livsey and former Chief Steve Roos.
In an interview with the Post Register, Carol Dodge said the actions of those involved in the case had hurt her family as well.
"Chris was not the only one affected by this," Carol said. "They consumed my life, my children's lives, and Destiny's life."
The lawsuit contains a description of how Tapp's case played out, including new details on the personal toll imprisonment took on his life.
Tapp is being represented by John Thomas, a local public defense attorney who represented him in his criminal case for years until his 2019 exoneration. He is also being represented by Peter Neufeld of Neufeld, Scheck and Brustine, a law firm based in New York that specializes in wrongful conviction lawsuits. Neufeld is also a founder of the Innocence Project.
"Tapp’s conviction was the direct result of some of the worst police misconduct in the history of wrongful convictions, including about 60 hours of abusive interrogations and sham polygraphs," Neufeld said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
The five confessions of Christopher Tapp
Angie Dodge was killed on June 13, 1996. She was found in her apartment with her throat cut, with evidence indicating she was raped before her death.
For months there wasn't a suspect until police became suspicious of Benjamin Hobbs, a friend of Tapp's who had recently been arrested for an unrelated case in Nevada in which he was accused of raping a woman at knifepoint.
"Facing mounting pressure to solve this high-profile crime, Defendants, out of desperation, decided to focus their investigation on Hobbs (and his friends to the extent they might provide evidence incriminating Hobbs), despite the fact that absolutely no evidence linked Hobbs or any of his friends, including Tapp, to the crime," the lawsuit states.
Tapp initially told officers he did not know what had happened to Dodge. Over the course of several days, detectives Fuhriman, Grimes, Stacey, Finn and Brown told Tapp he was going to be charged for the murder and that he could face the death penalty unless he said Hobbs killed Dodge.
When Tapp passed polygraph examinations while saying he did not know who killed Dodge, the officers lied and told him he had failed.
After what the complaint describes as relentless pressure from investigators Tapp said Hobbs had told him he killed and raped Dodge. Police then obtained a warrant for a DNA sample from Hobbs. Testing showed neither of them matched the samples recovered from the crime scene.
Over the course of the interrogations, Tapp named multiple people he claimed had participated in the rape and murder, none of whom matched the DNA samples. He gave five different versions of events, with details changing each time he was interviewed by police.
During his trial, police testified under oath that Tapp had given details not publicly known about the case. Reviews of the interrogations, however, found the detectives often fed him information, or simply waited for him to guess the correct answer.
"During smoke breaks and other pauses in the interrogations, Defendants told Tapp the story they wanted him to tell and fed him non-public facts about the crime to weave into that story," the complaint says. "They then falsely reported that those stories and facts originated with Tapp."
The lawsuit also points to clues police missed that would have led them to Dripps.
Dripps was questioned as part of a sweep of the neighborhood and admitted he was out until 3 a.m. the night of Dodge's murder. The lawsuit notes police took DNA samples from 65 men during the investigation but did not take a sample from Dripps, who lived across the street from Dodge.
Two officers on bicycles were also on the street the night of the murder when Dripps said he was outside.
"(T)hese officers either failed to document their interactions that night, or thereafter destroyed any documentation of those interactions," the lawsuit states.
Carol said she believes the officers failed to stop Dripps, and that they could have prevented her daughter's death.
"My daughter did not need to die," Carol said.
In 1998 Tapp's conviction was based primarily on his statements to police. The only other evidence that pointed to him was the testimony of a teen girl who said she overheard Tapp discussing the murder with Hobbs at a party.
Tapp and his attorneys are accusing the police department of coercing Osborne's testimony. In a 2019 interview with the Post Register, Osborne said Fuhriman, Brown and Grimes told her she may be suppressing memories because of her struggle with drug addiction. She said they also told her she could be charged with a crime if she did not speak to them.
“I was manipulated and coerced and fed a huge story and threatened 23 years ago by the many members of the Idaho Falls Police Department to falsely testify against Chris Tapp,” Osborne told the Post Register.
Both Osborne and Hobbs told the Post Register they did not know each other and that they never attended a party together, in contrast to Osborne's 1998 testimony.
"Fuhriman, Brown, Grimes, and Stacey then fed Osborne exactly the story they wanted her to tell," the complaint states. "When she got something 'wrong,' they would 'correct' her by telling her again what they wanted her to say."
The lawsuit contains a new allegation that Brown fabricated police reports of his conversation with Osborne. The lawsuit says Brown reported police questioned her after receiving a call from the treatment facility where she was housed.
However, Osborne told the Post Register police had contacted her.
Police chiefs also face lawsuit
Former Police Chiefs Kent Livsey and Steve Roos also are named in the lawsuit. Tapp and his attorneys argue that, as police chief, Livsey would have or should have been aware of the conduct of his officers. The complaint cites an incident in which Tapp's mother attempted to stop an interrogation, only for Livsey to pull her aside and encourage her to let the detective work.
Roos, who served as chief of the Idaho Falls Police Department from 2007 to 2012, is also named as a defendant. The lawsuit cites an incident in 2009 when the Idaho Innocence Project reached out to Roos with information about a DNA test that could identify anyone related to the killer, similar to the technique IFPD officers used 10 years later to identify Dripps.
Tapp's attorneys are accusing Roos of ignoring the request for a new test, claiming Dripps could have been identified 10 years before his arrest if police had acted.
The personal loss for Christopher Tapp
Included in the lawsuit are new details of how 20 years in prison have affected Tapp's life, including his physical and psychological health.
In addition to the personal loss experienced by any person falsely imprisoned, such as the loss of time, the lawsuit reveals Tapp was targeted in prison because he was labeled as a sex offender.
"In the spring or summer of 1997, Tapp was physically attacked by another inmate and suffered injuries and bruising, including to his face," The complaint states. "This was not an isolated incident; numerous times throughout his over twenty years of wrongful imprisonment — indeed, nearly every year — Tapp suffered physical assaults."
Tapp told the Post Register he was told in 1997 that a "bounty" had been placed on him in the Bonneville County Jail and that inmates believed they would receive $200 in their account if they beat him up.
Tapp said that while he was in prison, inmates targeted him not just for being a sex offender, but because they thought he was a rat after he named Hobbs to police.
Tapp also contracted tuberculosis, which can be fatal, in prison and said he did not receive treatment until after his 2017 release.
The lawsuit states he contracted pneumonia in 2006, and did not receive treatment for 15 days, until he could barely move.
He reportedly lost several teeth due to periodontitis, limiting what foods he is able to eat. He also reported hearing loss caused by the loud noise within prison.
Tapp's mother mortgaged her house to cover the legal fees for his defense. When Tapp's father died in 2000, he was unable to attend the funeral.
No dollar amount has been attached to the lawsuit. Tapp and his attorneys have filed 16 claims against the city of Idaho Falls and the officers involved in his case.
The city of Idaho Falls released a statement Thursday in response to the lawsuit.
“The city has an obligation to the public to exercise great care in all legal matters," Public Information Officer Bud Cranor wrote in a statement. "In any pending litigation, public statements always carry the possibility of being used by the various parties involved to the benefit or detriment of the others, which is why we generally do not provide comment on legal matters. We are aware of the lawsuit and demands being made by Mr. Tapp’s attorneys and intend to respond to them through the proper legal channels in the course of the legal process.”