Three inmates who escaped from a Southern California jail are still missing, though authorities have made five arrests as part of the investigation, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Wednesday afternoon.
Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were awaiting trials for unrelated violent crimes when they vanished Jan. 22 from a Santa Ana jail dormitory they shared with about 65 other men at the Orange County Men's Central Jail. Their disappearance wasn't discovered until about 15 hours later.
"It's every sheriff's nightmare. You never want to have an escape from any jail. They do happen and you certainly don't want maximum security prisoners who are a danger to the public to get out of your jail. So it's not a good day," Hutchens said.
Around 30 warrants had been served since the escape was discovered. Those warrants were served and homes and used to search electronic devices, such as computers and phones.
Five arrests have been made as part of the investigation, Hutchens said, but she declined to give details. She said others are likely in coming days.
The men are believed to have escaped shortly after a 5 a.m. physical body count, one of two that take place each day at the jail. The disappearance wasn't discovered until about 9 p.m., during the second daily headcount, which was to have started at 8 p.m. but was delayed by an altercation possibly staged to help delay discovery of the escape, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
"I am troubled by the amount of time it took us to discover that three inmates from our maximum security jail were unaccounted for such a long period of time. We have taken immediate steps to rectify that by changing our count procedures and tightening up in other areas," Hutchens said.
Authorities were continuing to investigate whether other inmates had a hand in the escape, notably through the altercation that delayed the 8 p.m. body count.
Hutchens said she believes others were involved in the escape.
"Certainly believe there was outside help, looking at possibility of inside help," she said. "I believe they had outside help."
The men cut through a steel grate, half-inch steel bars and plumbing tunnels early Friday before making their way to an unsecured part of the jail's roof and using makeshift ropes to rappel several floors to the ground.
The tools used to cut through the bars have not been recovered, Hutchens said.
Nayeri, of Newport Beach, was in custody on kidnapping and torture charges for the abduction of a marijuana clinic owner who Nayeri allegedly drove to the desert and burned with a blowtorch. The victim, his attackers thought he had stashed money in the desert, was also sexually mutilated, prosecutors said.
Nayeri fled the United States to Iran. 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 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family, Murphy said.
Hutchens said Wednesday she believes Nayeri to be the mastermind behind the escape, given his backround. She called him "more sophisticated" that the other two missing inmates.
Tieu, of Fountain Valley, faces murder and attempted murder charges in connection with a gang hit, prosecutors said, and Bac Duong, of Santa Ana, faces an attempted murder charge and was being held without bail on an immigration hold pending a possible federal deportation hearing.
Duong was ordered deported from the United States in 1998, but remained in the country. His appeal was dismissed and Duong was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2003, but later released on an order of supervision. He complied with that order until August 2014, according to ICE, which lodged a detainer against him following his Orange County arrest and sought notification before his release.