Search continues for inmates who escaped from Orange County jail – Los Angeles Times

Sheriff’s investigators Sunday were continuing to search for three dangerous prisoners who escaped from the Orange County Men’s Central Jail by cutting through half-inch steel bars, making their way through plumbing tunnels and then rappelling from the roof using a makeshift rope.

“This appears to be a very sophisticated operation,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said of the inmates’ escape, the first at the jail in nearly 30 years.

Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were discovered missing from the jail on Friday. Tieu is charged with murder, Duong with attempted murder and Nayeri with kidnapping and torture.

The inmates, wearing orange jumpsuits, were last seen about 5 a.m., authorities said. They were discovered missing later that night.

There was a fight inside the facility about 8 p.m. that may have been part of the escape plan, sheriff’s officials said. The fight delayed the nighttime headcount, which normally takes place at that hour.

The inmates were discovered missing when the headcount was completed about 9 p.m.

They were able to get past security points in at least three areas, accessing the jail’s plumbing system, apparently using tools to cut through metal bars and bedsheets to descend at least four stories to reach the ground, authorities said. How they got those tools and how they went undetected is still unknown.

“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,” 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.”

The county jail houses more than 900 inmates. About 70% to 80% of the inmates are felons, with more than 384 in custody for murder, attempted murder and other serious, violent crimes, Hutchens said.

The Men’s Central Jail, built in 1968, is a hulking concrete compound in Santa Ana’s civic center, its sheer concrete walls rising several stories. The roof is lined with loops of barbed wire.

The jail sits in a busy district of the city’s downtown, home to government offices, courthouses and a soccer stadium.

One factor in the escape, Hutchens said, is the age and layout of the jail. The central jail is an older “linear” facility, designed in a way that inmates are able to move through different areas throughout the day.

“If you have someone in a cell block, you can’t leave them locked down 24 hours a day,” Hutchens said. “Unfortunately the reality is, we will have escapes. We learn from our mistakes, we investigate how this happened, we tighten up our security and we change policies if necessary.”

Investigators are also reviewing video surveillance that may offer clues about how the men were able to get away once they broke out of the jail, Hutchens said.

In addition to a $20,000 reward offered by the FBI, the U.S. marshals announced they are offering $30,000 reward — or $10,000 for information leading to the apprehension of each fugitive.

Hutchens said authorities had received a number of good tips on the escaped inmates’ whereabouts, but have confirmed no sightings of the three men. She said there is no indication that any of them have left the country.

The sheriff warned the public that the men were violent and to “presume that they are armed,” she said. “Do not approach them.”

Once the inmates were discovered missing, authorities launched a search of the jail complex and the nearby civic center.

“The sheriff’s No. 1 priority in this is the safety of our community,” Lt. Jeff Hallock told reporters at a news conference Saturday. “We have dedicated all available resources to this search and investigation so that we may bring all three inmates back into custody.”

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Sheriff’s investigators were still trying to figure out exactly how the inmates managed to plan and execute their escape undetected.

“We believe this was a very sophisticated, very well-thought-out plan that may have been in the works for weeks up to months,” said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department. “This is not something they did overnight.”

She said officials were still reviewing videos around the Santa Ana jail and civic center to determine which direction the inmates fled.

“I think the public should expect the worst if they’re encountering them and call 911 and allow the professionals to respond,” Hallock said.

Tieu had 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 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.

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