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Reward quadrupled for OC jail escapees

Posted: 4:44 PM, Jan 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-27 00:44:30Z

SANTA ANA, Calif. - The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday quadrupled the reward being offered for information leading to the capture of three inmates who engineered a brazen, well-orchestrated escape from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana.

The board boosted the total reward to $200,000, adding $150,000 to the $50,000 being offered by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals Service is offering $10,000 per inmate and the FBI is offering a $20,000 flat fee.

The move came as the search for the trio of inmates -- Hossein Nayeri, 37, of Newport Beach; Jonathan Tieu, 20, of Fountain Valley; and Bac Duong, 43, of Santa Ana -- entered its fifth day.

Sheriff's officials said the trio disappeared after an inmate body count at the jail at 5 a.m. Friday. Their disappearance wasn't noticed until about 16 hours later, when another count was conducted at 9 p.m.

Authorities were tight-lipped on the details of their search but said Monday that around 30 warrants had been served since the escape was discovered.

A probe is underway into how the inmates managed to pull off such an elaborate escape -- cutting their way through four or five metal barriers to access plumbing tunnels and make their way onto the roof of the jail, from which they rappelled to the ground using ropes fashioned from linen sheets.

On Sunday, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told reporters on that the suspects "had some tools."

"Where they got those tools and how they got them, we do not know that," Hutchens said.

Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Hallock told reporters this afternoon: "We feel very confident that each of the escaped inmates were housed appropriately in a maximum security jail," but the sheriff has raised concerns about the tracking of the inmates.

"As we stated, we have parallel investigations that are occurring, and the preliminary investigation into the escape and how it occurred has caused the sheriff concerns as to some of the jail inmate count practices and how they were conducted," Hallock said.

"Though information is still preliminary at this point, the sheriff is extremely troubled by the length of time it took to determine that three inmates housed in a maximum-security jail were unaccounted for," he said.

Hallock told City News Service on Monday that deputies check the whereabouts of inmates in that jail five times a day. Two are physical body counts at 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., while the rest are a comparison of computer records with a "mod card," which is essential a jail ID card that lists a detainee's charges and other information, Hallock said. The "administrative counts" are made at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and midnight.

When an inmate is sent to court or elsewhere outside the jail, the card stays in possession of a guard, Hallock said.

"That portion of the (internal) investigation is ongoing. However, immediate steps have been taken to address that specific concern" about the tracking of inmates, Hallock said. "In addition, since the escape occurred, we've conducted a roof-to-basement check of the entire Central Men's Jail."

There have been two prior escapes in 1988 and 1986, with the "common denominator" being the roof as an escape route, Hallock said. There were other escapes in the early 1980s and in 1968, he added.

"It is important to remember the secured area of the roof is accessed on a regular basis for outdoor recreation activities," Hallock said. "This is one of the many design flaws of a more transitory jail built in 1968."

The lieutenant added, "Our more modern facilities do not allow inmates to access the roof, and all outdoor recreation activities occur inside the housing (unit)."

Determining who gets housed in Mod F is an "extremely complex process" that takes into account current charges, criminal history, demeanor and prior behavior if the inmate was previously incarcerated, Hallock said.

"This particular tank that these three inmates were housed in housed 68 inmates and it's made up of almost 50 percent of violent crime offenders," Hallock said.

Meanwhile, a prosecutor who compared Nayeri to the movie character Hannibal Lecter lashed out at the Sheriff's Department, saying the agency should have had him under tighter scrutiny.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown, who is one of the prosecutors handling the 2012 kidnapping and torture case against Nayeri, told the Orange County Register that the defendant is "diabolical."

"My first reaction was: Oh, my God, they let Hannibal Lecter out," Brown said. "He is sophisticated, incredibly violent and cunning."

Brown's boss, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, issued a statement Tuesday saying her comments were "inappropriate, uninformed and rash."

The county's top prosecutor praised Hutchens' department for "working tirelessly on tracking these inmates to bring them back to face their charges."

Rackauckas added, "Those statements were not authorized by me or anyone from the OCDA. Those statements do not reflect the position of the OCDA."

Nayeri is accused of participating in an attack against a Newport Beach resident who ran a licensed marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana.

Prosecutors allege Nayeri burned the victim with a butane torch, beat him with a pistol and a rubber hose, and eventually ordered another suspect to cut off the man's penis. His trial was set to begin Feb. 23.

Local and federal authorities are involved in the search for the missing inmates, who cut through a steel grate, half-inch steel bars and plumbing tunnels before making their way to an unsecured part of the jail's roof.

Felony escape charges were filed Monday against the three inmates, one -- and possibly two -- of whom are believed to be involved with Vietnamese gangs.

Authorities say the suspects should be considered armed and dangerous.

Hallock said the discovery of the missing inmates was delayed Friday night when a melee broke out in the jail -- delaying the scheduled 8 p.m. inmate count -- in what may have been an orchestrated effort to give the escapees more time to elude authorities.

Nayeri fled the United States to Iran following his alleged involvement in the 2012 kidnapping and assault. Authorities do not have extradition agreements with Iran, where Nayeri has family, so investigators used a ruse to get him to the Czech Republic, which is more cooperative with the U.S. for extraditing fugitives, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy.

Nayeri was arrested in Prague in 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family, according to Murphy.

Tieu faces murder and attempted murder charges in connection with a gang hit, and Duong faces an attempted murder charge and was being held without bail on an immigration hold pending a possible federal deportation hearing.