SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com/AP) — A manhunt was underway Monday to search for three men who managed to thwart authorities at a maximum-security jail in Santa Ana.
A reward of up to $20,000 was offered by the FBI, and up to $30,000 has been offered by the U.S. Marshals Service for information leading to the capture of the suspects, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jeff Hallock said Monday.
Two of the suspects are believed to be involved with local Vietnamese gangs, and they may be “embedded” with the Vietnamese community in the area, sheriff’s investigators said.
“We think that there’s obviously ties, based on the fact that one of the individuals is a documented Vietnamese gang member,” Hallock said. “We think it’s a strong possibility that he may have connected with those fellow gang members in the Vietnamese community.”
Authorities restated their warning that the suspects should be considered armed, dangerous and potentially desperate.
“We’re over 48 hours that we know this escape occurred,” Hallock said. “Yeah, they could be very desperate. We don’t have any information to indicate that they are together. But time would tell you they get to a point where they become desperate, whether they need money or somebody to help facilitate their well-being on a day-to-day basis. But obviously the concern is that they are desperate. They are facing some very serious charges. That’s why we’re pleading for the public’s help because we know somebody out there knows something.”
It was a daring and elaborate escape: cutting through metal, crawling through plumbing tunnels, climbing a roof, rappelling four stories to freedom using ropes made from bedsheets.
But this wasn’t a Hollywood movie; it was a real-life breakout that left authorities struggling to find three escapees — one an alleged killer — and put together the pieces of how they managed to escape.
The priority was finding the men, but a probe also is underway to see whether the men had any help from inside or outside the Orange County Men’s Central Jail, authorities said Sunday.
Jonathan Tieu, 20; Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were awaiting trial for violent crimes but their cases were unconnected. They vanished from a dormitory they shared with around 65 other men Friday shortly after the 5 a.m. inmate head count, sheriff’s officials said.
Somehow, the men obtained tools that allowed them to cut through the quarter-inch-thick grill on a dormitory wall, then got into plumbing tunnels. Cutting their way through additional half-inch-thick steel bars, the trio made their way to an unguarded area of the roof of the four-story building, where they apparently moved aside some razor wire and rappelled to the ground using elaborately braided ropes made from linens, authorities said.
The escape wasn’t noticed for 16 hours, until a nighttime head count that was delayed about an hour because of a fight involving some other inmates that may — or may not — have been part of the escape plan.
Clearly, the plan had been long in the making and carefully thought out, Hallock said.
“We’re talking about breaching, in some places, significant amounts of steel, rebar and metal,” Hallock said.
As federal and local authorities staged a round-the-clock manhunt, there remained a lot of questions about the escape itself. How did the men get the cutting tools? When did they make the rope and where did they stash it? How did they know the jail layout so well? Did they have outside help, maybe a car waiting after they ran off on foot in their orange jail jumpsuits?
And perhaps most importantly: Did other inmates or jail employees help them?
“We’re going to take a look at everybody who may have been assigned there,” Hallock said. “What I can assure you is that the compromises in security have been shored up.”
He didn’t provide details.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 37 years, always working for sheriff’s departments that manage jails. And escapes do occur from time to time,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said. “We try and limit that. We learn from the mistakes. I can tell you that this is a very sophisticated-looking operation. People in jail have a lot of time to sit around and think about ways to defeat our systems.”
There had been two previous escapes from the jail but they were decades ago. In fact, nobody had managed it in more than 20 years.
But the aging jail, built in 1968 and housing some 900 men, does have some vulnerabilities. Its design allows inmates to move through different areas more easily than more modern jails.
And inmates do move, which makes it difficult to get daytime head counts.
“We have people going to court, we have people going for medical treatment, and you can’t leave them locked down 24 hours a day. There are requirements that they get out and exercise from time to time,” Hutchens said.
The inmates include Tieu, who had been held on a $1 million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. His case is believed to be gang-related.
Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. They drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then cut off his penis, authorities said.
After the crime, Nayeri fled to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. He was arrested in Prague in November 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.
The third escaped inmate, Duong, was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and other
While the Mexican border is only a couple of hours south of the prison, authorities said they had no evidence that the men had left the country. Their alleged victims, as well as prosecutors and detectives involved in their cases, have been warned and investigators also are reaching out to family and acquaintances of the escaped inmates.
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