VERNAL — Charges were filed Monday against three people suspected of taking part in a beating that left a Vernal man in a coma.
Emmett Rey Duncan Jr., Eric Lee Welsh Jr. and Megan Murray are each charged in 8th District Court with aggravated assault and theft in the attack on Johnny Jessie Maez. The charges are second-degree felonies.
Roosevelt police detective Pete Butcher said officers are also looking for a 17-year-old boy who is suspected of taking part in the assault.
On May 15, Maez was fueling up his car at a Maverik convenience store when Murray drove up in a rented car, according to charging documents. Duncan, Welsh and a teenage male — all wearing red clothing — got out of the car and approached Maez, the charges state.
Witnesses said Maez, who was dressed in blue, spotted the trio coming toward him and fled to a nearby truck that was driven by his wife. He retrieved a 9 mm handgun from the back seat of the truck and attempted to load it, witnesses said.
But one his pursuers took the weapon from Maez and began hitting him in the head with it, the charges state.
"Maez was also hit and kicked," according to the charges, which noted that witnesses told officers Murray, 28, got out of the car she had rented and "shouted words of encouragement to the assailants."
A witness told the Deseret News that before the attack ended, one of the men "jumped completely off the ground and landed with both feet on (Maez's) head, smashing it into the ground."
That witness and another one also told the Deseret News that two of the people who assaulted Maez had handguns of their own. There is no mention of other firearms in the charging documents.
Duncan, Welsh, Murray and the teenager were all gone by the time police arrived, but a witness provided officers with the license plate number of their vehicle.
Bureau of Indian Affairs police found the car in a subdivision on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation later that night. However, "because the suspects in this case are on Ute Tribe property, Roosevelt authorities are unable to affect an arrest on them," the charges state.
Duncan and Murray are both enrolled members of the Ute Tribe. Over the past year, the tribe's leadership has accused state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies in the Uintah Basin of exceeding their jurisdiction and engaging in racial profiling and harassment of tribal members.
After Maez was beaten, the Ute Tribe's governing Business Committee issued a statement saying it would "take all necessary steps to assist in the effort to have the individuals involved in this incident brought forth to justice."
Police still don't know what may have motivated the attack, but charging documents refer to the people accused of assaulting Maez as "rival gang members."
Investigators have said the incident does not currently appear to be linked to a pending criminal case against Maez.
In February, Maez was charged with assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. The misdemeanor charges were filed following a fight in the Uintah Basin Medical Center parking lot that involved Maez, his ex-wife, her brother and another woman.
Maez entered not-guilty pleas to the charges. He was scheduled to be in court Monday for a pretrial hearing, but remained hospitalized.
State court records show Maez, 32, has prior convictions for attempted aggravated kidnapping, attempted aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated burglary, and aggravated assault and discharging a firearm from a vehicle.
Each of those convictions make it illegal for Maez to possess a firearm.
Duncan, Welsh and Murray have also had their own troubles with the law, court records show, although Murray's are solely for traffic violations.
Duncan, 30, has state convictions for attempted assault by a prisoner, interfering with an arrest, intoxication and consumption of alcohol by a minor.
He was also ordered to serve nearly nine years in federal prison for burglarizing a home on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in January 2002 while armed with a shotgun, and for dragging a BIA police officer and a Roosevelt police officer who were trying to remove him from a car during a April 2002 traffic stop.
Federal court records show Duncan violated his probation after his release from prison by using methamphetamine and associating with a felon in 2010. He was sentenced in July 2011 to serve another 10 months behind bars.
Welsh's only prior state convictions are for misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance, driving on revocation and failure to appear in court on a citation.
A judge has issued $20,000 arrest warrants for Duncan, Welsh and Murray. Anyone with information about where they may be is asked to call the Roosevelt Police Department at 435-722-2330.