Suspect in deadly Meridian home invasion, house fire incident released on bond five days earlier

Posted at 9:52 AM, Oct 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-23 13:42:46-04


The suspect police say tried to break into a Meridian home at gunpoint late-September, and ultimately died after the home burst into flames following an officer-involved shooting, was released by a Canyon County judge on pre-trial conditions just five days before the deadly incident.

Pavel Florea, now identified as the suspect involved in the incident that also left two civilians dead, was taken into custody September 6 on a warrant for a felony probation violation stemming from a Domestic Violence charge which resulted in traumatic injury.

After two weeks in the Canyon County Jail, Florea was released on $20,000 bond September 22, and ordered by a judge to check-in with the county's pre-trial release office in an attempt to keep tabs on him while awaiting trial, but officials say Florea never reported to pre-trail services.

Five days later, on September 27, the Canyon County Sheriff's Office sent an affidavit reporting Florea did not comply with the judge's orders. Later that night, Ada County deputies responded to reports of a man trying to break into a rural Meridian home near Amity and Linder Roads, which we've now learned was Pavel Florea.

When deputies arrived on scene, they were involved in a shooting with Florea, before he retreated into the home. Moments later the house was fully engulfed in flames, and ultimately left two of the residents dead, 54-year-old Scott McAlister and his 84-year-old mother, Carmen Abbott. A third resident, Lily McAlister survived. Florea was also found dead in the wreckage. The Coroner's Office conducted extensive DNA testing to confirm his identity.

Looking at the bigger issue

Florea's release from Canyon County custody just days before the deadly incident is shedding light on a statewide issue regarding jail overcrowding, forcing judges to release inmates who are awaiting trial to free up available jail space.

"We have 600 people out on pre-trail alone," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. "In which case the judges have said, 'There's no room at the jail, so we're going to put you out on pre-trail, either on your own recognizance or electronic monitoring.'" 

However, Sheriff Donahue says at least 250 of those non-sentenced individuals awaiting trial are facing charges for violent crimes.

"250 people are out there walking the street today who should be in jail. That's very alarming," Sheriff Donahue said. "This is a crisis, and it's frustrating as can be."

The bottom line, though, is there are more inmates in Canyon County than there are jail beds. The county has 477 potential beds, according to Sheriff Donahue, most of which are dormitory-style, including 122 beds in a tent facility originally designed to house work-release inmates. The tent facility has made news headlines on several occasions in recent years, as nine inmates have successfully escaped the facility since December 2015.

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue has been urging the public for years to realize the need for a larger jail facility in the county, but each attempt at getting voters to approve a bond for a new jail has been unsuccessful.

"Our office is very adamant about trying to keep people safe obviously, we took an oath to do so, but we can only manage what we're given," Sheriff Donahue said. "If we have only 477 potential beds, than that's all we can manage."

Donahue says that not only are released inmates not returning to court when they're ordered to by a judge, but they're committing new crimes, creating more victims. "So there's more and more victims out there because these people are walking the street, because there's no place to put them in the jail," Donahue said.

So what's the solution? According to Sheriff Donahue, "You've got to build a jail, it's really that simple. Public safety has to be the foundation of the culture, it has to be, without public safety you have chaos."


What's the cost?

Building a brand new jail doesn't come cheap, but Canyon County Commissioners approved an in-depth study earlier this year to determine how much a new jail would cost that would meet the county's long-term needs. The study will be complete sometime in late-October, and the findings will be shared in public auditorium-style meetings with the community.

Sheriff Donahue says a solution is needed now. "The longer you keep kicking this can down the road as a society, the higher the cost is going to be and the more taxes you're going to pay. The cost has already increased exponentially," he said.

Donahue says national and international experts working on the study agree there's a need for more than double the existing jail space in the county. "They've said to me point blank, 'You need a thousand beds today, you don't need a thousand beds ten years from now."

A majority of the study's mission is to determine how a workable facility could fit onto a 24-acre piece of land already purchased by the county. "That's part of what their job was, to kind of show us what that would look like, how it would accommodate the number of inmates we have, the programming that we need for inmates, and the medical aspects, all of it," Donahue said.

Out of state options

To relieve mounting overcrowding issues, Canyon County has been renting jail space from several counties across the state, but Donahue says overcrowding is an issue statewide.

"We are in a crisis, and really the whole state is moving toward that, but [Canyon County is] truly the epicenter of it," Sheriff Donahue said. "Every single day I've got inmates in Owyhee, Gem County, probably Washington County today, for sure Valley County today, and we have to go get them and bring them back to court everyday."

Transporting out-of-county inmates back-and-forth to court appearances daily is expensive, and what Donahue calls a "logistical nightmare", but a nightmare that will only get more frightening as the number of inmates increases. "Chartered airplanes, whatever it will take, but you've got to keep the public safe," he said. 

County officials are now looking in to options of how the county can start housing inmates out-of-state, a costly temporary solution with no long-term fix. "There's no beds in the state of Idaho for us to go rent," he said. "All the jails are full."