(Photo: Johnson City Police Facebook)
A former special federal prosecutor is accusing the Johnson City Police Department of protecting — either through “incompetence” or outright corruption — an alleged serial rapist.
In an extraordinary move, former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kateri Dahl is suing Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner and the city in U.S. District Court, alleging the chief killed funding for her job after she pressed the agency to build a case against a felon she believes has raped at least 10 women.
In the lawsuit, Dahl claims Turner and police officers under his command ignored or downplayed repeated allegations of rape against the felon, mocked the complaining women and Dahl, tipped the felon to a pending federal indictment and allowed him to escape arrest.
“Dahl gathered substantial evidence that a well-known individual … had not just been dealing drugs but was credibly accused of raping multiple women and had possibly caused the death of one of his alleged victims,” the lawsuit stated. “Dahl urged Johnson City and its Police Chief Karl Turner to investigate further. But Chief Karl Turner intentionally and recklessly failed to investigate (the felon) despite Dahl’s repeated urging.
“After Dahl obtained a sealed federal indictment and arrest warrant for (the suspect) … on a relatively minor federal ammunition charge, Johnson City police officers unreasonably delayed execution of the warrant and ultimately botched (his) arrest by improperly notifying (the suspect) of the existence of the sealed indictment, effectively letting him flee,” the lawsuit continued.
“Dahl became concerned that the Johnson City (Police Department) was intentionally refusing or recklessly failing to investigate or seize (the suspect) either because (he) was corruptly paying off Johnson City officers or to cover up its plain incompetence,” the lawsuit stated.
When Dahl shared those concerns with a supervisor at the U.S. Attorney’s office and an agent with the FBI, Turner convinced the city to cancel the contract through which Dahl was paid, effectively ending her job as a special prosecutor, according to the lawsuit.
The felon’s name has been redacted from the lawsuit at the request of Dahl, who says in the litigation the federal indictment against him remains under seal pending his arrest. Instead, the felon is identified by the pseudonym “Richard Voe.”
Turner did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s office for which Dahl prosecuted cases declined to comment on her allegations.special prosecutor lawsuit
The ‘raped’ list
Dahl was hired as a special prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greeneville in September 2019 via a contract, labeled in the lawsuit as a memorandum of understanding, under which Dahl was paid by Johnson City.
According to the lawsuit, Dahl was tasked with helping the Johnson City Police Department build federal cases against drug traffickers and violent felons within the agency’s jurisdiction.
A year after Dahl was hired, she learned that a woman “had fallen from the window of Voe’s fifth-floor condominium” on 200 East Main Street in downtown Johnson City. In a media release issued immediately after the non-fatal fall, Turner ruled out any foul play and deemed the cause as “medical.”
As part of the agency’s investigation into the incident, Johnson City detectives searched Voe’s condominium and found ammunition inside a safe and a handwritten note on a nightstand in his bedroom “with the word ‘raped’ written atop a list of 23 women’s first names,” the lawsuit stated.
“Voe was already a convicted felon who had previously been named as a suspect in two Johnson City police reports for sexual assault,” the lawsuit stated. “(Johnson City) Detective (Toma) Sparks told Dahl about unproven but pervasive rumors within the local community that Voe engaged in cocaine trafficking.”
Dahl also learned at least two women had filed reports with the Johnson City Police Department in which they alleged Voe had drugged and raped them at his condominium around the same time as the non-fatal fall.
Dahl says in the lawsuit she reached out to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor, her supervisor at the U.S. Attorney’s office, as well as Chief Turner and Johnson City Criminal Investigation Division Captain Kevin Peters with “a plan to build a case against Voe.”
“Dahl was concerned … that Johnson City officers had made errors in their investigation of Voe to date, particularly by failing to obtain a search warrant for Voe’s garage nearby where he was known to socialize, show off his sports cars and keep some of his belongings,” the lawsuit stated.
Taylor, the lawsuit states, suggested Dahl “set up a meeting with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to provide additional help.” She did, according to the litigation, but that meeting was later canceled after the agent with whom she was to meet contracted COVID-19.
So, the lawsuit stated, she instead set up a meeting in December 2020 with Turner and Peters. It did not go well, according to the litigation.
“Chief Turner cast doubt on the handwritten ‘raped’ list recovered from Voe’s condo, stating that the victims ‘are not for sure in that regard, regardless of what he wrote in the notebook, ‘” the lawsuit stated. “He further stated, ‘Even the list, I don’t know if that’s girls he’s raped or girls he’s had consensual sex with and calls it whatever he calls it. All I know is there’s a piece of paper with some first names on it.’”
According to the lawsuit, Turner questioned the credibility of the woman “who had ‘fallen’ from Voe’s fifth-floor window” and Peters “cast doubt on the credibility” of another woman who reported Voe had raped her. A third alleged rape victim was deemed “uncooperative” with police, the lawsuit stated.
“Nevertheless, when Dahl called (the third alleged victim), she readily agreed to come into the Johnson City Police Department to give a more thorough statement,” the lawsuit stated. “Her statement closely mirrored that of other (alleged Voe) victims.”
That woman also contended she encountered Johnson City officers in the lobby of the building as she fled Voe’s condo “in extreme distress, screaming and shoeless,” but the officers did nothing to investigate and instead simply drove her home, the lawsuit stated.
“Soon thereafter, Dahl identified yet another sexual assault victim of Voe and began to establish a modus operandi for how Voe conducted his sexual assaults,” according to the litigation. “Dahl obtained credible statements that Voe would meet young women and invite them to his condo, often after he bought them alcoholic drinks and/or gave them cocaine … The women would then pass out at Voe’s condo and later awaken to find that Voe had sexually assaulted them.”
Dahl in the lawsuit that Taylor, her federal supervisor, “told Dahl that federal prosecutors normally are not supposed to contact sexual assault victims without a detective’s involvement,” so she again began pressing Turner and Peters to conduct a probe of Voe.
“Instead, when Dahl pressed the need to build a case, Chief Turner, Captain Peters and other Johnson City officers made repeated comments dismissing the credibility of (the alleged rape) victims,” the lawsuit stated. “For example, one Johnson City investigator stated to Dahl, ‘In my 20 years on the force, I’ve only encountered one real rape.’
“Another stated about (the woman who fell from Voe’s window), ‘You can see her on the security footage, and she’s dressed like a real, well, I won’t say it,’” the lawsuit continued. “One male investigator stated to Dahl, ‘Well, Kat, if you’re so invested in developing this case, go have a drink at (the bar he frequents) and let (him) pick you up and take you back to his place. We’ll come get you in an hour.’”
Suspect turned fugitive
According to the lawsuit, a fourth woman came forward in January 2021 with rape allegations against Voe. Shortly thereafter, “an unknown person prominently scrawled the word ‘rapist’ as graffiti on Voe’s garage,” the lawsuit stated.
“Johnson City officers joked that Dahl herself had made the graffiti,” according to the litigation.
Dahl “continued to hear additional allegations against Voe from members of the downtown Johnson City community, including a woman in her yoga class, a friend with whom she had a drink at a local bar and a (legal) colleague,” the lawsuit stated.
In April 2021, Dahl obtained a federal indictment against Voe, charging him with being a felon in possession of ammunition based on the discovery by Johnson City police of bullets in his safe during the investigation of the woman’s fall from his window.
The lawsuit alleges Dahl asked Johnson City officers to arrest Voe on the federal indictment “approximately 30 times,” but her requests were met with “nonsensical” excuses for delay.
“One officer stated they could not execute the federal arrest warrant because the police lacked the door code to the lobby of his condo building,” the lawsuit stated.
On May 6, 2021, Dahl received a voicemail from Johnson City Police Department Lt. Don Shepherd in which he stated officers “asked Voe to come outside the closed front door to his condo unit, stating to Voe and others inside the condo unit that they had a warrant for Voe’s arrest.”
“When Voe declined to leave his condo and submit to arrest (the) officers left,” the lawsuit stated. “Voe has been a fugitive ever since.”
According to the lawsuit, Dahl “began quietly investigating Voe herself, including no less than eight interviews with individuals who lived and worked in downtown Johnson City near Voe’s condo.”
“Unanimously, they told her that they had personal information and belief that Voe serially intoxicated and/or drugged, then raped or otherwise sexually assaulted young female victims,” the lawsuit stated.
Dahl contends her own probe has revealed at least 10 rapes committed by Voe, including one case in which the alleged victim died in a fatal car crash after fleeing Voe’s condo.
The lawsuit alleges Turner convinced city leaders to cancel the contract that funded Dahl’s job in late June 2021, causing Dahl to lose her job as a special prosecutor. She has since filed formal complaints against the Johnson City Police Department with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and the agency’s Public Integrity Section, according to the litigation, but so far neither unit has taken any action.
Dahl is represented in her lawsuit by Missouri attorney Hugh Eastwood and Bristol, Tenn., attorney Alexis Tahinci. They allege in the litigation Chief Turner and the city are guilty of civil conspiracy to violate Dahl’s First Amendment free speech rights and 14th Amendment due process rights and are seeking unspecified punitive damages.
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