Editor’s Note: This story discusses domestic violence and self-harm, which some readers might find distressing. Free, confidential support is available through The Crisis Hotline in Ketchum at 208-788-3596 or The Advocates in Hailey at 208-788-4191.
A civil lawsuit filed against a deceased Hailey police officer, three local police departments and the departments’ associated jurisdictions has continued in federal court, fueled by a dispute over what could have—or could not have—prevented the murder of a Bellevue woman in 2020.
Prosecutors say that 28-year-old Bellevue resident Jared Murphy killed himself after murdering his former partner, Bellevue resident Ashley Midby, on Oct. 22, 2020.
Midby, 34, was fatally shot by Murphy near a coffee shop in Bellevue where she worked, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Fredback stated in a 2021 review of the case.
According to that review, Midby was completing management work in an office adjacent to the Coffee Corner Café, now Ashley’s Coffee Corner, around 8 p.m. on Oct. 22, 2020. Murphy—a Bellevue mayoral candidate and ex-officer who had been fired by the Hailey Police Department hours earlier—entered the room with a pistol and fired multiple shots at Midby, hitting her four times, before ending his own life. Both of their bodies were discovered shortly after 8 p.m.
“Murphy’s subsequent suicide prevents any opportunity to bring him to justice for this heinous and cowardly act,” Fredback wrote.
On March 9, Midby’s mother and stepfather, Karen and Michael Tackett, filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court through their attorney, Chad Nicholson. The suit placed blame for Midby’s death on Murphy’s estate and the Hailey Police Department, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and Bellevue Marshal’s Office, which it said missed multiple opportunities to prevent Midby’s murder starting in 2018.
Each law-enforcement agency was sued over alleged negligence and due-process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment. Murphy’s estate, meanwhile, was sued over wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The original complaint filed by Midby’s family details a timeline of accelerating violence leading up to her death. It alleges that Murphy had a violent disposition, directed “explosive and abusive outbursts” toward Midby and her dog and had a history of domestic abuse, heavy drinking and suicidal ideation—issues the Tacketts said the Hailey Police Department and other agencies learned about but did not properly address.
“These agencies were advised about Jared’s current mental state, mood swings, suicidal tendencies,” Nicholson wrote on behalf of the Tacketts, further claiming that many Hailey Police Department officers “no longer wanted to hang out with Ashley and Jared” due to Murphy’s “outbursts.”
The plaintiffs also accused the Hailey Police Department of hiring Murphy without a proper background check, which they said would have revealed Murphy’s resignation from another law-enforcement agency due to a previous driving-under-the-influence charge.
Even after learning about the DUI “at some point after Jared’s hire” and discussing it with him, the suit says, the department failed to disclose the DUI charge to the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training—or “POST”—Council. It also failed to address Murphy’s alleged “volatile relationship with his ex-wife,” the suit says.
“Had the DUI been disclosed to POST … [Murphy] would have not been permitted to remain an HPD officer,” Nicholson stated.
Police negligence focus of lawsuit
According to the prosecutor’s report, Murphy joined the Hailey Police Department in 2018, the same year he and Midby began dating, and lived with Midby in Bellevue, where Murphy was running for mayor in 2020.
Midby told police officers shortly before her death that she had “suffered verbal and emotional abuse” at Murphy’s hands and had been seeking support at a local domestic-violence advocacy agency, Fredback wrote.
Three days before the murder, in the early-morning hours of Monday, Oct. 19, officers from the Hailey Police Department, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and Bellevue Marshal’s Office were called to the couple’s home for a domestic disturbance.
The Tacketts’ lawsuit alleges that Midby told the responding officers that Murphy had burned their belongings, destroyed furniture with a hammer, abused Midby’s dog and “ripped boards off the wall of their residence and swung the boards towards Ashley and [her dog] to scare and intimidate” her earlier that morning.
“When the officers spoke to Ashley on October 19, 2020, the first words Ashley spoke were: ‘I needed a safe way to get out of here tonight,’” Nicholson wrote. “Despite receiving evidence that Jared had assaulted Ashley, HPD, BCSO, nor BMO took steps to arrest Jared or report the events to a prosecutor’s office for the filing of criminal charges.”
Two days before Midby’s death, on Tuesday, Oct. 20, Murphy was placed on administrative leave by Police Chief Steve England over the reported domestic abuse while the incident was investigated, according to Fredback’s review. Murphy then allegedly sent “an ominous ‘goodbye’ text” to Midby’s mother, according to the lawsuit.
On Thursday, Oct. 22, England informed Murphy that he would need to either resign or be fired. Either way, Fredback said, Murphy was told he would have to hand in his badge and service weapon by Oct. 26.
The lawsuit contends that between England’s termination notice at 3 p.m. on Thursday and Midby’s murder hours later, England “failed to collect Jared’s badge or service weapon” and did not alert Midby to his firing decision, which was “an event that Ashley had expressed would result in Jared attempting to harm her.”
It also contends that England failed to follow through on a “promise” he had made to Midby to help her obtain a protective or no-contact order.
Lawsuit originally involved two parties
The Tacketts’ original lawsuit was filed in Fifth District Court in Hailey just one week after Midby’s death. Only one defendant—a relative of Murphy representing his estate—was named at the time.
On Feb. 7, 2022, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in Fifth District court to demand a jury trial and add as defendants the Hailey Police Department, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and Bellevue Marshal’s Office.
One month later, attorney Michael Elia—representing the three law-enforcement agencies—made the move to elevate the lawsuit from state to federal court. The case was subsequently assigned to Judge Raymond E. Patricco of the U.S. District Court and re-assigned to Judge David C. Nye.
On April 12, Elia filed a motion to dismiss all of the Tacketts’ claims against the law-enforcement agencies, arguing that the individual offices are not “proper” defendants that can be sued separately from their associated cities.
Nicholson responded with an amended complaint on June 7 in which he added Hailey, Blaine County and Bellevue as defendants alongside the law-enforcement agencies. The cities and county should also be held responsible for Midby’s death, he argued, because the “[officers] who conducted these investigations were employees of Hailey, the County and Bellevue, respectively.”
“Hailey is required to fully vet and investigate all applicants to ensure that they are fit to be police officers and protect and serve the public at large,” Nicholson wrote in the updated complaint.
Murphy’s estate responded on July 21 that it could not confirm or deny details of Murphy and Midby’s relationship or alleged domestic trouble, denied that Murphy acted with “reckless and willful” conduct toward Midby and claimed that Midby’s family was not entitled to any financial compensation. The estate also denied that Murphy killed Midby and himself.
“Upon information and belief, as of [July 21], there remains an ongoing investigation as to cause of deaths of Ashley Midby and Jared Murphy,” defense attorney Justin May wrote representing Murphy’s estate.
Plaintiffs allege hypothetical felonies, breach of care
On Aug. 1, Nicholson argued that all law-enforcement agencies have a duty to conduct comprehensive background checks on applicants to ensure they are fit for duty.
“In this case … had Hailey adhered to its administrative duties to ensure Murphy’s fitness for duty, it would have learned of additional information that demonstrated Murphy was a danger to Midby via psychiatric or psychological examinations,” Nicholson wrote. “In other words, Hailey should have known of the extreme danger that Murphy would engage in further acts of domestic violence against Midby.”
He also said the officers should have arrested Murphy on the spot due to “felonious conduct” and provided Midby with immediate assistance on obtaining a protective order. Murphy, if detained, could have faced charges of felony arson, felony malicious injury to property, felony aggravated assault and felony stalking in the first degree while possessing a deadly weapon—charges that could keep him in jail, away from Midby, Nicholson wrote.
“Plaintiffs have alleged facts that demonstrate law enforcement officers had been advised that Murphy had committed or was likely to commit at least four felonies,” he stated. “As such, Idaho Code imposed a duty on those law enforcement officers to arrest Murphy.”
Nicholson further argued that Midby was owed additional protection under Idaho’s Domestic Violence Crime Prevention Act, or DVCPA, passed in 1988. The act states that law-enforcement officers have a duty to provide domestic violence victims information on protective orders, transport them to a safer location or shelter if necessary and forward a police report to prosecutors within 10 days.
“The DVCPA created a special duty of care to victims of domestic violence. Midby was a victim of domestic violence,” Nicholson stated. “As such, pursuant to the DVCPA, the Municipal Defendants owed a special duty of care to Midby.”
County, cities dismiss ‘what-if’ questions
On July 8, Elia argued in a motion to dismiss that the city of Hailey had no responsibility for Murphy’s conduct outside of work because it was a “governmental employer” immune to “damages arising from assault and battery committed by [an employee]” under the Idaho Tort Claims Act.
“Mr. Murphy was not acting within the course and scope of his employment duties with the City of Hailey when he shot and killed Ms. Midby … the Idaho Supreme Court has specifically rejected the notion that an employer carries any duty with regard to the conduct of its off-duty employees,” Elia wrote, citing a 2002 Idaho Supreme Court ruling that found the Mr. Wash car wash in Burley not responsible for the rape and death of 17-year-old Wendy Hunter, a Mr. Wash employee murdered by fellow 22-year-old employee Corey Hood.
Furthermore, Murphy was not an employee of the city of Hailey at the time of the crime, Elia argued, calling Nicholson’s allegations “contradictory” and built on “speculation about how the municipal defendants conceivably might have prevented Ms. Midby’s death, instead of facts [showing that the county agencies] caused Ms. Midby’s death.”
“Such allegations are in the vein of after-the-fact ‘armchair quarterbacking,’” Elia stated. “For example, even if a protective order had been entered, it may have prohibited Mr. Murphy from contacting Ms. Midby, but Plaintiffs make no indication as to why Mr. Murphy, who, in hindsight, apparently planned to kill Ms. Midby and then kill himself, would have been prevented from doing so or even deterred by the threat of a fine or jail time.”
Elia added that Idaho has no red flag law allowing police to temporarily confiscate an individual’s firearm or firearms. The Second Amendment “clearly prohibits the government from entering a person’s home and seizing his firearms without significant due process,” he asserted.
Elia further argued that the three law-enforcement agencies deployed an appropriate police response on Oct. 19 and had “no duty” to arrest Murphy under the domestic violence act cited by Nicholson, which he said created absolute immunity for police officers against “civil claims for actions or omission in the performance of his duties.”
“Law enforcement officials in Idaho have no general duty to protect members of the public from the harm of third parties, regardless of foreseeability,” he stated. “There is no cause of action in Idaho for ‘failure to arrest’ an individual based on reports of misdemeanor domestic violence ... [N]o peace officer may be held criminally or civilly liable for actions or omissions in the performance of the duties of his office,” Elia stated.
Ultimately, Elia continued that it was “incoherent” for the plaintiffs to argue that the city of Hailey could have prevented Midby’s murder by firing him sooner.
“Plaintiffs’ argument on this point is premised on the unsupported implication that Ms. Midby’s murder would have been prevented if only Mr. Murphy had been arrested. This implication is a non-sequitur,” Elia wrote on Aug. 15. “It does not follow from a hypothetical arrest that Mr. Murphy would be forced to remain in jail because he could not afford to post bond, would be prevented from accessing any firearms, would be prevented from accessing Ms. Midby, either on October 22, 2020 or on some other date, and would not have [planned the murder].” ￼