Family of inmate who died by suicide in Virginia jail gets $1.75 million settlement

Jan 19, 2024, 3:46 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — The family of a man who died by suicide at a Virginia jail after his antipsychotic medication was discontinued has received a $1.75 million settlement in a civil lawsuit.

Records at U.S. District Court in Alexandria show that the family of Christopher Lapp, who died in 2021 at the Alexandria jail, accepted the settlement offer Thursday from a psychiatrist who worked at the facility and was the target of the suit.

Lapp, who was 62 when he died, was being held at the jail awaiting sentencing on a federal charge for the armed robbery of a Wells Fargo Bank in Great Falls in November 2018. Lapp was bipolar and had a history of mental health problems, and the robbery occurred during what the judge called a manic episode and what his family’s lawyer described as a psychotic break.

He was initially found incompetent to stand trial but was restored to competency after being sent to the federal medical prison in Butner, North Carolina, where he received mental health care.

Lapp then decided to plead guilty to the bank robbery charge. Judge, T.S. Ellis III accepted the plea but ordered that Lapp be returned to Butner while he awaited sentencing so he could continue treatment.

But Butner refused to take him back, saying it had a policy against accepting an inmate who had not yet been sentenced for “continuity of care purposes.”

Lapp remained at the Alexandria jail, and the psychiatrist who evaluated him there ended his medications after Lapp insisted he did not need them.

Lapp hanged himself in his cell in May 2021, roughly a month after his plea. In a note left behind for his daughter, he wrote that “some bad people have been after me for a while.”

A month later Ellis chastised Butner officials during a hearing for disregarding his order. He also accepted a measure of blame himself — Lapp’s lawyer had filed notice to the court in late April that Butner refused to admit his client, but Ellis said he was unaware that Lapp had not been transferred.

Last month a different judge dismissed the federal government as a defendant in the civil suit but allowed the case to continue against the jail psychiatrist.

The settlement includes no admission of guilt or liability. In court papers, the psychiatrist’s lawyers argued, among other things, that Lapp didn’t want to take the antipsychotic medications and he had no ability to force him.

The jail declined to comment Friday.

Lapp was a nuclear physicist who had multiple degrees including a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His father, Ralph Lapp, was a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project.

He lived in a wealthy Great Falls neighborhood where he owned a $1.3 million home. Prosecutors said in court papers that Lapp had multiple romantic interests, including a Playboy model, and “he was working to keep his romantic love interests happy with additional money.”

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Family of inmate who died by suicide in Virginia jail gets $1.75 million settlement