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O.C. jail escapee was ordered deported in 1998 but remained in U.S.

Bac Duong, one of three Orange County jail prisoners who escaped last week, was ordered deported 16 years ago but continued to live in the country, federal officials said.

Duong entered the United States from Vietnam legally in 1991, but in 1998 he was ordered deported by an immigration judge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. The agency would not reveal the reason for his deportation.

Despite the order, Duong remained in the United States. In 2003 with his appeals exhausted he was taken into custody by ICE, officials said. Because people awaiting deportation cannot be held for more than six months, officials said, he was freed in 2004 and for the next decade reported regularly to ICE officials.

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He could not be returned to his home country in part because of a 2008 pact under which Vietnam agreed to provide documents to repatriate its citizens who had entered the U.S. after 1995 -- four years too late for Duong.

When Duong was arrested by the Orange County sheriff in 2014, ICE filed a detainer order for him.

With the prisoners at large since Friday, the jail has come under intense scrutiny for several policies that some believe may have made their escape easier.

Court documents made public Tuesday offered the most detailed description of the escape scheme yet, suggesting that more than 17 hours may have elapsed before evidence of the jailbreak was discovered.

Jail staff first realized that something was wrong around 8 p.m. Friday during a nightly count of prisoners that came up three short, according to the arrest warrants filed late Monday. The warrants make no mention of a jailhouse brawl that sheriff's officials have said delayed completion of the evening bed check until about 9 p.m.

After identifying the missing men as Duong, Jonathan Tieu and Hossein Nayeri, deputies checked the men's schedules to make sure they hadn't been in court that day or been left behind in a visitor area. They also checked to see whether the prisoners were in classes offered at the jail.

With no leads, deputies performed a second head count, confirming what many of them probably were dreading — the three men weren’t merely missing, they might have escaped.

At 8:45 p.m., deputies launched a physical search of the entire facility. Seven inmates claimed they saw Tieu, Duong and Nayeri during the jail’s 5 a.m. head count but did not see them the rest of the day.

As teams swept every cell, bunk bed and dorm, other deputies scoured the building's roof and plumbing tunnels, where they found makeshift ropes, cut-apart gates and sawed-open vents. Slowly, investigators were able to trace the trio’s path from Module F, the fourth-floor dormitory where they were housed, to a rope of knotted bedsheets they used to descend from the roof.

Sheriff's Department officials have said the escape probably began with the prisoners cutting through a metal screen in their fourth-floor cell. That gave them access to a plumbing tunnel that deputies discovered quickly leads to a ventilation shaft, according to the warrant.

A deputy searching the plumbing tunnel reported that the shaft's security bars had been cut away. About two feet below the shaft's entrance was a white bedsheet tied into a sling, with another sheet tied to more security bars, according to the affidavit.

“This was used as a way for the inmates to pull themselves up into the vent,” one deputy wrote.

Once inside the shaft, the escapees had to remove multiple “ventilation louvers,” or shutters, before they reached a trap door leading to the outer edge of the roof, according to the reports. That area is outside a security gate that keeps prisoners in a recreation area.

Hallock said the fact that inmates typically use the roof for recreation purposes is “one of many design flaws” of the nearly 50-year-old jail.

The reports in the warrants say the escapees sawed through some of the security bars but make no mention of any tools they may have used or from where they may have gotten them.

Once atop the jail, the prisoners cut barbed wire from the rooftop's edge and used the bed heets to rappel to the ground, deputies wrote.

About 10:30 p.m., investigators found two pairs of jail-issued sandals and a paper bag containing more rope that the trio presumably left on the roof before making their way to freedom.

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