Three men accused of committing violent crimes, including one who allegedly cut off a man’s penis during a kidnapping, have escaped from a jail in Orange County, California, authorities say.
Police and the U.S. Marshals Service are hunting for the three fugitives, Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Tien Duong. They escaped from the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana on Friday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release.
Jail officials learned the men were unaccounted for at 9 p.m. Friday night. They had last been seen early that morning.
Investigators believe the escapees cut through 1/2-inch steel bars and then went through plumbing tunnels to an unsecured area of the jail’s roof, KTLA-TV reports. They then pushed aside barbed wire and rappelled to the ground using a makeshift rope, possibly made out of sheets or clothing, the news station reports. The three men fled on foot. It’s not known if they had any help from outside the jail, the sheriff’s department said.
The escape is the first in more than 20 years from the jail and only the third in its history.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Two of the Escapees Are Tied to Local Vietnamese Gangs
Two of the escapees, Tieu and Duong, are believed to have ties to local Vietnamese gangs, officials said. Tieu is a member of the Tiny Rascal Gang, or TRG, according to the Orange County Register.
The men are considered armed and dangerous and the sheriff’s department said they believe they remain in Southern California, where there is a large Vietnamese population.
Authorities believe the escape was planned out for weeks or months.
“This was clearly a well-thought out and planned escape,” Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock told reporters.
The men were living in a “housing tank” within the Central Jail Complex called Mod F, along with 65 other inmates, Hallock said.
Jail officials believe the men cut through the pipes and made their escape sometime between the jail’s two headcounts, which are at 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.
“We have several counts throughout the 24-hour period. We have two, what we call, physical body counts – where they physically count the bodies and match them to our record cards,” Hallock said. He said they confirmed the escape at midnight.
He said a fight might have been staged to help aid in the escape.
“It appears, based on that disturbance and the timing of things, that that may have been part of the planning process, but again we’re still very early in the investigation,” Hallock said.
“We are utilizing every resource available to ensure these inmates are brought back into custody as quickly as possible. As Sheriff, my utmost concern and primary responsibility is the safety of each Orange County resident,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said in a message to the community. “I take this situation very seriously and the men and woman of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department will not rest until all three men are captured.”
Hutchens said the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Orange County Probation Office,the U.S. Marshals and the FBI are assisting her department in the search.
“I am confident that this collaborative effort will result in returning these inmates to where they belong- behind bars,” she said.
2. A Reward of $50,000 Has Been Offered for Information Leading to Their Capture
Local authorities and the FBI have offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the three fugitives, the sheriff’s department says. The reward has been increased from $20,000.
“If you see one or more of them, immediately call 9-1-1. If you have information pertaining to their whereabouts, call our Hotline at 714-628-7085. Please share and continue to help us in bringing these fugitives back into custody,” the sheriff’s department said Sunday.
“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 told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
3. Nayeri Is Accused of Kidnapping a Marijuana Dispensary Owner & Cutting Off His Penis
Nayeri, 37, was arrested in September 2014 on charges of kidnapping for ransom, aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.
He is accused of helping two friends break into a Newport Beach, California, home owned by a marijuana dispensary owner in 2012, kidnapping him and taking him to the Mojave Desert. The trio allegedly cut off the dispensary owner’s penis during the kidnapping, KABC-TV reports.
Nayeri and his friends mistakenly believed the dispensary owner had buried money in the desert, according to prosecutors. They drove off with his penis so it couldn’t be reattached, authorities said.
“The defendants are accused of brutally torturing this victim, they were beating him, they used a blowtorch to burn him,” Orange County District Attorney’s spokeswoman Farrah Emami said in 2014. “They cut off his penis, they caused him very, very serious injuries.”
Nayeri then fled to Iran, but was captured in Prague, Czech Republic, and extradited back to California.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
4. Tieu Was Being Held on $1 Million Bail on Murder & Attempted Murder Charges
Tieu, 20, has been held on $1 million bail since his October 2013 arrest on charges of murder, shooting at an inhabited home, attempted murder and street terrorism. The case is gang-related.
He was one of several members of the Tiny Rascal Gang charged in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Scottie Bui, an alleged member of the Power of Vietnam gang, in March 2011, according to the Orange County Register.
Tieu’s family said despite the murder charges he is facing, they do not think he would hurt anyone.
“I feel like he was manipulated or tricked into doing this,” his sister, Tiffany Tieu, told the Orange County Register.
“Turn yourself in. Don’t let this drag on,” she tearfully pleaded.
5. Doung Was Being Held Without Bail on Attempted Murder Charges
Doung, 43, was being held without bail on charges of attempted murder, burglary, firearms violations, and sentencing enhancements for attempted premeditated murder and inflicting great bodily harm, the Orange County Register reports. He was arrested December 4, 2015, and has pleaded not guilty.
He was being held without bail because of an immigration hold. He does not speak English and it is not known if he and Tieu knew each other before they were jailed. Police say he is also a member of a violent Vietnamese gang, but did not identify it.
Duong is accused of shooting a 52-year-old man in the chest on November 18 in Santa Ana, the Orange County Register reports.