(CN) — Christopher Tapp, an Idaho man who spent over 20 years falsely for a rape and murder he did not commit, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the city of Idaho Falls and police officers involved in the case, claiming he was coerced into giving a false confession.
On June 13, 1996 in Idaho Falls, police acting on a 911 call discovered 18-year old Angie Dodge raped and murdered in her own apartment. Police found Dodge in her bedroom with her multiple wounds to her chest and hands, a fatal knife wound across her throat and physical indications of having been raped.
After collecting fluids and other samples from her home, officials started an investigation into what happened the night Dodge was killed and who was behind the tragic event — an investigation that led officers to focus on Christopher Tapp.
As the investigation expanded, officials determined that Dodge had a small group of friends that spent time together along the Snake River. Police questioned then 19-year-old Tapp, in which he told officials he had never been to Dodge’s apartment. Tapp provided a blood sample to police and the investigation continued.
But after six months, police were no closer to finding the culprit and chose to return their attention to Tapp.
After being taken to a police station in early 1997 for questioning, Tapp later confessed to participating in the killing of Dodge that eventually resulted in a guilty verdict against him and a life sentence in prison.
The story, however, did not end there. Court documents report that in the aftermath of being convicted, and after multiple denied appeals, Tapp found an unlikely ally who suspected there was more to the story: Angie Dodge’s mother, Carol Dodge.
After Carol Dodge reviewed the confession tapes and DNA evidence that pointed to another culprit in her daughter’s murder, she became convinced that Tapp was innocent of the crime he had been sent to prison for.
As the years went on, Tapp and his defense team continued to compile new evidence using advancements in DNA technology that ruled out Tapp as the perpetrator behind the crime and proved his innocence.
This culminated in new DNA evidence taken from a discarded cigarette butt that led to the arrest of 54-year-old Brian Dripps, who has since been charged for the rape and murder of Dodge and has reportedly confessed to the crime.
On July 17, 2019, Judge Alan Stephens formally exonerated Tapp — more than 20 years after his conviction.
Now, Tapp has filed a lawsuit against officials involved in the case, alleging that police used coercion and threats to get him to confess to the crime, despite no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene.
According to the 57-page complaint filed Thursday in federal court, officials were facing mounting pressure to solve a high-profile criminal case and chose to focus their investigation on Tapp and his friends out of desperation, even though Tapp’s DNA did not match the DNA found at the apartment.
Peter Neufeld, one of Tapp’s attorneys, said in a statement obtained by EastIdahoNews.com that the defendants in the case took numerous steps to convince Tapp to confess to a crime he was innocent of.
“In an effort to break Tapp’s will, (IFPD) subjected him to about 60 hours of coercive interrogations and seven sham polygraphs, repeatedly threatened him with execution, and fed him multiple secret details about the crime that only the real perpetrator would know and then falsely reported that Tapp had volunteered those details,” Neufeld said.
The lawsuit claims that Tapp was not the only one who law enforcement pressured. During the trial, a teenage girl told the jury that Tapp had confessed to the crime, but Tapp’s attorneys say those statements were also false and coerced.
The complaint alleges that these actions taken by officials show that Tapp was subjected to egregious police misconduct that resulted in a sham confession, a wrongful conviction and untold damage to the life of an innocent man.
“Because of what the Idaho Falls Police did to me, I lost the opportunity to raise a family, pursue a career, and to share in the most basic freedoms that we all live for,” Tapp said in a news release, “I continue to live every day with the nightmare of the 22 years the Idaho Falls police stole from me.”
Tapp is asking the court for an award of punitive damages to be later determined at trial.
Idaho Falls spokesman Bud Cranor said in a statement that the city is aware of the lawsuit and plans on responding to the allegations through the proper legal channels during the legal process.