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Idaho prison system changes medical transport policies after hospital escape

Following the staged escape that wounded three COs, IDOC is working with Centurion Health, its medical health care provider, to find ways to reduce the number of hospital transports

Idaho Execution

An Idaho department of corrections vehicle patrols the Idaho State prison complex near Kuna, Idaho on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Kyle Green)

Kyle Green/AP

By Kevin Fixler
The Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction pursued immediate changes and continues to review its procedures for emergency medical transportation of prisoners after police said a member of the Aryan Knights gang escaped when a fellow gang member attacked corrections officers at a Boise hospital.

State prison officials are working with medical groups, including Saint Alphonsus Health System, which oversees its Regional Medical Center in Boise where the armed encounter took place, to enhance safety for prison staff, IDOC Director Josh Tewalt told the Board of Correction at a meeting Monday. He said some changes already went into effect the day of the incident last week.

“Our staff had to travel a short distance in low light. There was some exposure, and it certainly put them at a tactical disadvantage and subjected them to the ambush that we witnessed,” Tewalt told the state prisons board Monday. “So what we’re continuing to work with them on is, how do we maintain the safety and security of everybody involved with those emergency transports?”

Skylar Meade, 31, a prisoner at the Idaho maximum security prison south of Boise, required emergency medical care the evening of March 19 after self-inflicted injuries, prison officials said. He was treated and discharged just after 2 a.m. the next day. Former maximum security prisoner Nicholas Umphenour, 28, fired a gun at accompanying corrections officers, hitting two of them, police said. Meade and Umphenour fled in a gray sedan before their capture Thursday in Twin Falls , according to state police.

It had become “routine practice,” Tewalt said Monday, for IDOC medical transportation teams to avoid taking up an emergency room ambulance bay at the hospital and instead park nearby. The van that took Meade to Saint Alphonsus for treatment was parked in a designated spot for law enforcement off to the side and outside of the ambulance bay, he said.

“What happened was unprecedented,” Tewalt said. “But now there’s a precedent, so how do we take what we’ve learned from this event and make sure that we can prevent a recurrence through policy and practice? This is one of those areas that was quickly identified.”

A Saint Alphonsus spokesperson declined to comment and referred the Idaho Statesman to the state prison system.

Meade and Umphenour were arraigned on felony charges in Ada County on Monday afternoon. They attended via video from the Ada County Jail , where both remained in custody in lieu of $2 million bonds. Idaho State Police also were investigating the two men for a pair of homicides while a statewide search was underway to locate and arrest them.

Umphenour was charged with three counts of assault or battery after shooting two corrections officers. A third corrections officer was shot by an unidentified Boise police officer when he arrived at the hospital on a report of an active shooter and saw an armed person near the hospital entrance, Boise police previously said. Only one of the corrections officers was armed, IDOC spokesperson Sanda Kuzeta-Cerimagic told the Statesman on Monday.

Two of the three corrections officers were released from the hospital, while a third who suffered multiple gunshot wounds remained under medical care, Tewalt said Monday. One of the two released will need more surgery to remove debris, he said, while the other suffered a single gunshot wound to the abdomen but was released Sunday after a successful surgery to remove the bullet.

“Certainly it wasn’t just IDOC’s staff that were impacted that morning,” Tewalt said. “Everybody that was on shift there at the hospital felt the effects of those events, and we’re all equally committed to ensuring a repeat doesn’t happen.”

FBI-led task force helped with capture

In total, four investigations related to the incident are ongoing, said Tewalt, who has helmed the state prison system since December 2018. He called the violent incident last week a “defining event” of his IDOC career.

State police are handling the homicide investigations of James L. Mauney, 83, of Juliaetta, and Don Henderson, 72, of Orofino. In addition, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office is leading the Critical Incident Task Force investigation of the police shooting of the corrections officer; Boise police are investigating Meade’s escape; and IDOC’s special investigation unit is conducting an internal review of Meade’s communications for possible information about the planned escape.

The state prison system has overseen more than 1,000 unscheduled medical transports of prisoners since the start of last year, Tewalt said. In the wake of the staged escape, IDOC is working with Centurion Health, its medical health care provider, to find ways to reduce their number of hospital transports, including the possible addition of X-rays and other body scan devices at the prison complex to help determine whether some medical visits can be delayed or do not require the ER.

IDOC also plans to coordinate in the future with local law enforcement agencies for what are deemed “high-risk” transports, Tewalt said. The prison system already had added to Meade’s transport detail because of his prior violent criminal history, Tewalt said at a news conference last week.

IDOC, in its continued review of hospital transport policies, will not be offering specifics about other revisions it may make, for obvious security reasons, Tewalt said. Those potential policy changes will be brought back to the Board of Correction for review at a future closed-door meeting, he said.

“You hate to adjust policy to add bureaucracy or make things difficult,” Dodds Hayden, vice chair of the Board of Correction, told Tewalt on Monday. “But what an example of the cost of a procedure in this case that arguably was devastating to two people, and could have been much more.”

Tewalt offered his thanks to a group of law enforcement agencies for their assistance locating and capturing Meade and Umphenour, including several in the Treasure Valley. The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office also were involved, as was the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force , which is based in Canyon County and overseen by the FBI. IDOC is a member of the FBI -led task force, a FBI spokesperson told the Statesman, but declined to comment further.

On Monday, the Idaho State Police, Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Boise Police Department and U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit provided the Statesman with no additional information about the investigations or about Meade and Umphenour’s capture. A third person, Tonia Huber, 52, of Filer, was arrested with the two men on suspicion of assisting with Meade’s escape.

“Every single one of us feels responsible when we have events like this, and we should because policies and practices are our responsibility,” Tewalt said of the state prisons leadership team. “We have people that got hurt, we had an escape, this is a very, very serious deal. And while we can’t help our staff recover, what we can do is get better as a result.”

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