O.C. Sheriff's Department examines what went wrong as fugitives return to jail

Two of the three inmates who escaped from an Orange County jail were booked early Sunday morning into the Santa Ana detention facility from which they had fled, marking the end of an eight-day manhunt by federal and local law enforcement officials.

Shortly after 1 a.m., deputies escorted Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, into the Central Men's Jail, as shown in video released by the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Both Nayeri and Tieu were shackled and wearing orange scrubs.

The men were arrested Saturday in San Francisco near a Whole Foods Market, a day after their accomplice, Bac Duong, surrendered to authorities at an auto body shop on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana.

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With all three men again in custody, the focus has shifted to how they carried out such a brazen jailbreak — the first in nearly 30 years at the facility — and how the Sheriff's Department could have prevented it.

"We do not want another escape from an Orange County jail," Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said this weekend. She vowed to examine "where the system failed" and scheduled a news conference Monday to provide more details.

No disciplinary action has been taken against department personnel, she said. But the head of the union representing Orange County deputies publicly criticized the jail leadership, called for the removal of the captain overseeing the facility and said the department's policy on counting inmates was ignored in the months leading up to the Jan. 22 escape.

The timing of inmate head counts, as well as the jail's outdated surveillance systems have become key issues.

The inmates' escaped from their fourth-floor dormitory sometime after 5 a.m., when the first head count at the jail is conducted. They cut through four layers of steel, metal and rebar as they slinked through the jail's plumbing tunnels and an air duct. After reaching the roof, a floor above the room where they had been housed with about 60 other inmates, they clipped barbed wire from the roof's edge and used a rope of knotted bedsheets to rappel down the side of the building.

Their departure went unnoticed until the second physical head count of the day about 8 p.m., which gave them a head start of up to 15 hours, according to court documents.

Kimberly Edds, spokeswoman for the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said there were supposed to be five physical head counts in a 24-hour period according to department policy, but jail management said only two were being performed. Tom Dominguez, the group's president, wrote in a letter delivered Friday to Hutchens that nearly a year ago, deputies in the jails were instructed to ignore department policy.

Hutchens has said that the department's investigation is continuing, without specially addressing the union's allegations.

In addition to two physical head counts on the day of the escape, three "paper checks" that involve reviewing records to account for inmate movements within the jail or to court were conducted but did not detect the breakout, sheriff's officials said. After the escape, however, Hutchens said deputies would now be required to conduct more thorough checks by confirming that inmates actually moved to other locations during the day.

Neither the Sheriff's Department nor the union would provide a copy of the jail count policy to The Times.

Six times from 2008 to 2014, the county's Grand Jury has called on the Sheriff's Department to upgrade its surveillance systems. The 2014 report said the lack of adequate video monitoring equipment endangered inmates and staff.

Last year, the Sheriff's Department began an $11-million project to modernize its video surveillance program. It's unclear whether the module where the men were housed had cameras.

Hutchens said an internal investigation will determine the complete facts of the escape and examine department practices. She said that deputies would be required to conduct more thorough checks on inmates during the day.

"I have been very clear from the onset of the jail escape investigation that I am deeply concerned about the length of time it took to recognize that three maximum security inmates were unaccounted for," Hutchens said in a statement. "Until the investigation is complete, I am unable to discuss further."

Many details of the trio's escape and their time on the lam remain unknown or have been withheld from the public. Hutchens said that investigators had not determined whether others helped the trio.

Authorities say an English-language instructor at the jail, Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, provided Nayeri access to Google Maps, which gave him an aerial view of the jail's roof.

The day after the escape, the three obtained a white GMC Savana van. Duong responded to a Craigslist ad for the van in South Los Angeles, took it on a test drive and never returned it, Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Hallock said.

At some point, they headed north to San Jose, where they checked into a motel Tuesday and paid cash for a two-night stay.

It's unclear how the inmates obtained the tools officials suspect they used to break out of the jail or the cash for the hotel room. Hutchens said she also did not know how Duong traveled from San Jose back to Santa Ana.

Photos of the white van that sheriff's officials had released to the public led to Nayeri and Tieu's arrest Saturday morning. An unidentified man recognized the vehicle and alerted police, said San Francisco Police Officer Grace Gatpandan.

Officers responded to the area at Haight and Stanyan streets and spotted Nayeri, who fled on foot when he saw the officers, police said. He was later arrested.

Tieu was found hiding in the van, police said, along with handgun ammunition but no weapons.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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A version of this article appeared in print on February 01, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Fugitive O.C. inmates are returned to custody - Sheriff's Department launches inquiry into how three men fled." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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