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News / Northwest

Men described as Idaho prison gang members appear in court on hospital ambush and escape charges

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
Published: March 25, 2024, 5:43pm

BOISE, Idaho — Two men charged in a brazen prison escape and ambush at an Idaho hospital that left three correctional officers with gunshot injuries were arraigned in Boise on Monday.

Skylar Meade, the escaped inmate, and Nicholas Umphenour, a former inmate who used to live in the same cell block as Meade, are members of the same white supremacist prison gang, according to police. The pair are also suspected of killing two people in northern Idaho, police say, though no charges have yet been filed in connection with the deaths.

The arraignment focused on the felony escape charges filed against both men, as well as an additional three counts of felony aggravated battery on an officer and using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony filed against Umphenour. Prosecutors say he shot at correctional officers Elijah Jackson, Daniel Lopez and Christopher Wilskie as part of a plot to help Meade escape custody. Two of the officers were injured by the gunshots, according to police. A third officer was shot and injured by a police officer who opened fire after seeing an armed person near the hospital entrance.

The hospital attack early Wednesday morning was “essentially a pre-planned violent ambush-assisted escape,” Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Heather Reilly told Magistrate Judge Michael Dean.

Dean agreed to keep the bond for both men set at $2 million after prosecutors said they were a danger to the community and flight risks.

Officials say the case began when Meade injured himself in prison last week and was transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise for emergency treatment. Correctional officers were preparing to return Meade to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution a few hours later, at about 2 a.m., when police say Umphenour ambushed the officers in the hospital’s ambulance bay.

Police say two of the officers were shot by Umphenour and sustained serious injuries. A third correctional officer also sustained non-life-threatening injuries when a responding police officer — mistakenly believing the shooter was still in the emergency room — opened fire. All three officers were hospitalized with serious injuries. Idaho Department of Correction spokesperson Sanda Kuzeta-Cerimagic said Monday that two of the officers have been released and the third was expected to be released by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, police say Meade and Umphenour fled. While a search was underway, authorities found the bodies of two men in Clearwater County and Nez Perce County, which borders Washington state. Shackles were found at the scene of one of the killings, and Idaho State Police Lt. Colonel Sheldon Kelley said that was part of what led investigators to believe Umphenour and Meade may be connected to the deaths. A vehicle belonging to one of the victims was spotted in Filer, an Idaho town roughly 400 miles (644 kilometers) to the south.

An FBI agent was watching the area where the vehicle was found, according to court documents, when he said he saw the suspects drive away in separate cars. The agent and other law enforcement officers gave chase, and both men were arrested.

Police say both Meade and Umphenour are believed to be members of the same white supremacist prison gang, but authorities have not suggested that the escape or other charges are connected to gang activity.

Meade and Umphenour wore orange and yellow jail uniforms for their court appearance on Monday, with Umphenour appearing by video from a jail conference room and Meade appearing by video from a jail cell. They did not have an opportunity to enter a plea, but were scheduled for preliminary hearings early next month.

Meade is represented by Ada County public defender Savannah Bell and Umphenour is represented by Ada County public defender Brian Marx. Neither attorney could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.