O.C. jail escape: How did they do it? Court papers offer a look into the early investigation

Court documents formally charging three inmates with escaping from Orange County Jail reveal new details of how authorities believe they got out and about law enforcement’s reaction in the first hours after the jailbreak was discovered.

Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were awaiting trials in unrelated violent felony cases when they slipped out of the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana sometime after 5 a.m. Friday, authorities said.

In a series of reports in arrest warrants filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, county sheriff’s deputies laid out the early stages of their investigation.

According to the documents, jail staff first realized something was wrong around 8 p.m. during a nightly count of inmates that came up three short. The reports don’t mention a disturbance at the jail that sheriff’s officials have said delayed completion of the bed check until about 9 p.m.

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

With no leads, deputies performed a second head count, confirming the men were missing.

At 8:45 p.m., deputies notified their supervisors and began a wider search of the five-story facility.

Crews began moving cell to cell in the 68-inmate section known as Module F, where Tieu, Duong and Nayeri had been.

During the sweep, deputies searched each cell and verified every inmate’s identity. They also began interviewing possible witnesses, according to the affidavit.

Seven inmates told deputies that they saw Tieu, Duong and Nayeri during the jail’s 5 a.m. head count. Each inmate said he went to sleep after the check and never saw them again.

As teams checked every cell, other deputies scoured the building’s roof and system of tunnels, according to the warrant.

Sheriff’s Department officials have said the escape likely began with the inmates cutting through a metal screen in their fourth-floor cell. This gave them access to a plumbing tunnel, but according to the warrant, deputies discovered that that tunnel would quickly lead the escapees to a ventilation shaft.

A deputy who had been searching the plumbing tunnel wrote that he found the shaft’s security bars had been cut away.

About two feet below the shaft’s entrance was a white bed sheet 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 inmates in a recreation area.

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 where they may have gotten them.

Once atop the jail, the inmates cut barbed wire from the rooftop’s edge and used tied-together bed sheets to rappel to the ground, deputies wrote.

Around 10:30 p.m., more than 17 hours after the morning head count, investigators found two pairs of jail-issued sandals and a paper bag containing more rope the trio presumably left on the roof before making their way to freedom.