CRIME

Police identify 2 homicide victims possibly tied to captured Idaho inmate and his accomplice

Mar 22, 2024, 6:29 PM

Skylar Meade, left, and Nicholas Umphenour...

Skylar Meade, left, and Nicholas Umphenour were captured in Twin Falls, Idaho. (Twin Falls County Sheriff/Bosie Police Department via CNN )

(Twin Falls County Sheriff/Bosie Police Department via CNN )

(BOISE, Idaho, CNN)Two elderly Idaho men whose deaths authorities say are possibly linked to an Idaho inmate and his accomplice, who allegedly helped him escape police custody on Wednesday, have been identified, Idaho State Police announced Friday.

Idaho State Police on Friday identified the victims believed to be related to Skylar Meade’s escape as 83-year-old James L. Mauney of Juliaetta, Idaho, and 72-year-old Gerald “Don” Henderson of Orofino, Idaho.

Investigators do not believe Mauney knew Meade and his alleged accomplice, Nicholas Umphenour, and say Henderson may have been acquainted with the suspects, but it’s not clear how or for how long, according to a news release from Idaho State Police.

A third suspect, identified by the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office as 52-year-old Tonia Huber, was arrested in Filer, Idaho, on Friday on charges related to Meade’s attempt to flee a residence in Flier, according to ISP. Jail records show she was charged with attempting to elude a peace officer and possession of fentanyl.

Meade, Umphenour and Huber appeared in a Twin Falls magistrate court on Friday, according to Ada County prosecutor Scott Bandy. Both Meade and Umphenour are being held on $2 million bail.

Meade is charged with felony escape. Huber is also charged with harboring a fugitive, alluding and possession of a controlled substance. CNN is working to identify Meade’s, Umpenhour’s and Huber’s legal representatives for comment.

Following a 36-hour manhunt, Meade and Umphenour were captured Thursday afternoon in Twin Falls, Idaho, two hours away from where Meade escaped as he was discharged from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, authorities said.

The coordinated attack and escape happened early Wednesday morning as Meade was being escorted from the hospital by corrections officers who had taken him there the previous night after he engaged in “self-injurious behavior” at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, according to Josh Tewalt, director of the Idaho Department of Correction.

The three Idaho corrections officers escorting him were ambushed by a gunman who shot two of them before the inmate and his accomplice fled in a getaway car, police said.

After Meade and Umphenour were captured, police announced Thursday they’re investigating two homicides “potentially tied to the escape” that happened in the last 24 hours in different locations in Nez Perce and Clearwater counties.

Meade’s shackles were found at one of the homicide scenes and the men had possession of the car of one of the victims, according to Lt. Colonel Sheldon Kelley of the Idaho State Police. The county coroner will later be providing details on the men’s identities and how they died, he said.

The two suspects were apprehended “before their path of destruction could get any wider,” Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar said during Thursday’s news conference.

In addition to the two officers allegedly shot by the suspect, officials said a third corrections officer was wounded by gunfire from a responding police officer. Two of the officers were in the hospital in stable condition on Thursday and the third officer was released Wednesday night, Tewalt said.

Here’s what we know about the escape and the investigation so far:

How do the two suspects know each other?

Meade and Umphenour have ties to the White supremacist group Aryan Knights, according to Tewalt. The Aryan Knights is a White supremacist prison gang based primarily in Idaho, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It’s “one of multiple security threat groups” the Idaho Department of Correction monitors, Tewalt said.

In addition to the White supremacist group ties, Meade and Umphenour had common acquaintances in custody and in the community, according to Tewalt. The men also shared a housing unit at some point at the corrections facility between December 29, 2020, until Umphenour’s release on January 17, 2024, Tewalt said.

Meade was sentenced in October 2016 for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a firearm. He has many prior convictions, Winegar said, and is a documented gang member. He was due to be released in 2036.

Meade has the numbers “1” and “11” tattooed on his face, a reference to the group, Winegar noted.

More information on Umphenour’s criminal history and his time in prison will be provided in the coming days, authorities said at Thursday’s news conference.

Umphenour is now accused of aggravated battery against law enforcement and aiding and abetting an escape, according to a police news release Wednesday.

“Their gang involvement doesn’t necessarily indicate that this was some sort of gang-sanctioned event,” Tewalt said at the news conference.

Police are looking for more information about the escape

Law enforcement said they would investigate exactly how the breakout occurred while the inmate was in custody.

“This was a planned event and we’re channeling every resource we have and trying to understand exactly how they went about planning it,” Tewalt said.

Before the escape, two corrections staff members rode with Meade in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and a chase vehicle followed, Tewalt said. In a high-risk situation like Meade’s hospital visit, Tewalt said, an inmate is typically flanked by two unarmed staff members, with an armed staff member following to keep watch. Meade was in restraints while being escorted out of the hospital, Tewalt said.

Corrections officers were preparing to take Meade back to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution – about 11 miles away – when the shooter fired at the officers shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, striking two of them, Winegar said. Then, Meade and Umphenour fled the scene in a getaway car just before police arrived, authorities said.

The third corrections officer was wounded by gunfire from a responding police officer, who believed the shooter was inside the emergency department and saw an armed individual near the door, officials said.

Authorities said the responding police officers on Wednesday initially believed it was an active shooter event at the hospital and rushed in to ensure the safety of those in the building. The hospital locked down for some time and later resumed operations, police said.

“This brazen, violent, and apparently coordinated attack on Idaho Department of Corrections personnel, to facilitate an escape of a dangerous inmate, was carried out right in front of the Emergency Department, where people come for medical help, often in the direst circumstances,” Winegar said in a news release after the shooting. “I am grateful this harrowing incident did not result in loss of life, and we are monitoring the wounded IDOC officers with great hope for a full and speedy recovery of all involved.”

Law enforcement agencies across Idaho started investigating and searching for the escaped inmate and shooting suspect Wednesday morning, a police news release said.

“This investigation has grown immensely over the last 24 to 36 hours and has involved a number of different entities and crimes across the state of Idaho,” Winegar said during Thursday’s news conference.

After Meade and Umphenour fled Boise on Wednesday, detectives believe the men drove north through Idaho and encountered Mauney as he walked his dogs near Juliaetta, Idaho, Idaho State Police said in a news release.

On Wednesday near Leland, Idaho, law enforcement officers found the abandoned Honda Civic used in the escape and Mauney’s body nearby, according to Idaho State Police.

That day, state police and the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Henderson’s death at his home in a secluded area outside Orofino, Idaho, authorities said.

Police found Mauney’s unharmed dogs and a pair of shackles believed to be left behind by Meade at Henderson’s home, according to the release.

A Twin Falls County prosecutor on Friday said Huber, whose bail was set at $500,000, was “driving 100 mph through neighborhoods in Twin Falls in an attempt to further the escape of these two men who were wanted on violent felony charges.”

Law enforcement said the capture was successful thanks to “hundreds of tips from the public,” the Thursday news release said.

Idaho State Police say they will continue to investigate the homicides and provide updates on those investigations and suspects while Boise police probe the inmate escape and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office investigates the officer involved shooting, the release said.

Officers were following policies when they were ambushed, official says

Less than 1% of incarcerated people escape every year, said Jeff Mellow, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Given how difficult it is for individuals to escape from prison, Mellow suspects somebody leaked that Meade was going to visit the hospital. Even with extensive security measures, corrections officers have to practice extreme vigilance at all times, Mellow added.

Due to his history, Meade had more security at the hospital than their usual protocol, Tewalt said.

“From our initial review of events, facility leadership in authorizing that transport and augmenting resources, as well as the conduct and performance of our staff and the execution of that transport, were wholly in line with our policies and practices,” Tewalt said.

“We feel really comfortable at this point in saying that our policies were followed…they did in fact go above and beyond,” Tewalt said.

However, Tewalt said his office will be reviewing whether staff adhered to policies and practices and “whether our policies and practices were sufficient enough to put our staff in a position to maintain their safety and security.”

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Police identify 2 homicide victims possibly tied to captured Idaho inmate and his accomplice