Five people believed to be connected to a trio of inmates who escaped from a Santa Ana jail have been arrested and deputies expect to round up more people Thursday and over the coming days as the manhunt for the escapees continues, says Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
Hutchens would not provide details of the arrests but said the suspects “have some connection to the individuals who have escaped.” Not all the people arrested are gang members, she said, even though the search for the escapees has focused heavily on a Vietnamese gang.
The sheriff said investigators believe the escapees must have had “outside help” obtaining cutting tools for the jailbreak.
“We are continuing to focus on a Vietnamese gang that is active in Westminster and Garden Grove, and we have now made a number of arrests,” Hutchens said Wednesday. “However, further details are not available as the investigation is ongoing. We have made around five arrests and we are going to make additional arrests throughout this evening and probably into tomorrow.”
Sheriff’s officials are also adjusting the system of non-physical inmate body counts that involve a guard comparing computer records with a “mod card” issued to each inmate, said Lt. Jeff Hallock, a sheriff’s department spokesman. When the inmate leaves the facility for a court hearing or some other reason, the card stays with the guard.
The sheriff wants guards more vigilant about ensuring they have the right number of bodies in a jail module when they aren’t doing actual physical body counts.
“Internally, we are looking at our policies and procedures,” Hutchens said. “We are looking into the escape itself and how it occurred and whether there was any outside or inside help. We certainly believe at this point that there was outside help. We continue to look at the possibility that there was some inside help as well.”
Hutchens said she was “troubled by the amount of time it took for us to discover that three inmates from our maximum security jail were unaccounted for. … We have taken immediate steps to rectify that by changing our count procedures and tightening up in other areas, and we continue to look system- wide at our policies and procedures and that will be ongoing for some time.”
New photos of one of the escaped inmates, 43-year-old Bac Duong of Santa Ana, were released to give the public a more accurate view of him and a depiction of the inmate’s tattoos.
Hossein Nayeri, 37, of Newport Beach, Jonathan Tieu, 20, of Fountain Valley, and Bac Duong, 43, of Santa Ana disappeared after a 5 a.m. Friday body count in the jail. They were not discovered missing until nearly 9 p.m., when the second daily body count was conducted. Nayeri had been in custody since September 2014, Tieu since October 2013 and Duong since December.
The sheriff said she suspects Nayeri was the “mastermind” of the breakout based on his military training.
“Certainly (Nayeri), based on his past, is a little more sophisticated than the other two individuals,” Hutchens said. “He has a military history and, of course, he fled before, as we all know.”
Nayeri was enlisted in the Armed Forces, but it’s unclear which branch. He was discharged after getting into a fight with a superior, according to one law enforcement source.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors quadrupled the reward for information that leads to the inmates’ recapture, boosting it to $200,000. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service pledged the initial $50,000.
There were two escapes from the same jail 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 said.
“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.”
He said the department’s “more modern facilities do not allow inmates to access the roof, and all outdoor recreation activities occur inside the housing (unit).”
Nayeri is accused of participating in an attack against a Newport Beach resident who ran a licensed marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana. Prosecutors say he 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.
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.
Felony escape charges were filed Monday against the three inmates. Authorities say they should be considered armed and dangerous.
— Wire reports