Five people have been arrested in connection with the escape of three inmates at Orange County's Central Men's Jail, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Wednesday.
She added that the department expects to make additional arrests throughout the evening and into Thursday, but would not say what those arrested so far had been charged with out of concern with compromising further arrests. She also said she believed Vietnamese gangs were likely involved in the escape, and that those arrested have some connection to the escapees.
"I do believe [the inmates] had outside help," Hutchens said at an afternoon press conference. "The question is, how do you get cutting tools into the jail?"
The escapees — Bac Duong, 43, Hossein Nayeri, 37, and Jonathan Tieu, 20 – cut through a steel grate inside a dormitory-style room on the fourth floor, climbed through the jail’s plumbing tunnels and onto the roof where they pushed aside barbed wire and used ropes made of braided bed linens to rappel to the ground.
Authorities believe this happened shortly after a 5 a.m. head count, but jail deputies didn’t notice the three inmates were missing until about 16 hours later during a second head count. Hutchens called the escape "every sheriff's nightmare."
"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.
Hutchens also released new images of Bac Duong at the Wednesday afternoon press conference, including photos of his tattoos. She said he was the only one of the three who was on an immigration hold, but wasn't able to be deported, as his country of origin had refused to accept him.
Asked whether the inmates should have been kept together in a dormitory rather than in individual cells, Hutchens said there was no information that would have suggested they were a threat.
"We house based on behavior and there were no issues with [...] any of these individuals while they were in custody," she said.
Authorities have not found any of the tools they believe must have used to facilitate the escape, Hutchens said, despite searching the jail and the area where the prisoners escaped from.
There have been five escapes since the Orange County Central Men’s Jail was built in 1968 and the “common denominator” among many of those jailbreaks has been the roof, a sheriff's spokesperson said Tuesday.
Since the jailbreak, there have been criticisms about the facility’s security and “inadequate” video surveillance systems, as warned by several Orange County grand jury reports in recent years. Hutchens described it as "an old jail" and said it was "high-maintenance," adding that that means they have to decide whether it's worth continuing to put money in or whether they should look for funding for a new facility.
"What's most cost effective for the county taxpayer?" Hutchens said.
In the meantime, Hutchens said she believed there were some things that could be done internally to do a better job. She said the department needs to do a better job of using technology where feasible inside the jail. She said the department is looking into adding more video cameras and introducing inmate identification wristbands that use radio frequencies to track them.
Prison expert Keramet Reiter, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine, said properly working cameras assist in monitoring inmates and jail deputies.
“There’s good research that having video cameras allows you to identify when bad things happen, can deter bad behavior, and generally raises the legality of an institution,” she said.
That said, Reiter said that in the case of an escape, the cameras would have to be monitored in real time to do any good — and that means extra jail deputies, which the OC Sheriff's Department hasn't had money to put in place. Hutchens cited the economic downturn as the reason for not being able to implement recommendations to add additional staffing, but added that the Department was in a better financial position now and could implement more of the recommendations.
County and federal officials are offering up to $200,000 for information leading to the arrest of the three missing inmates.
Authorities believe a disturbance before the 9 p.m. prisoner count after the prisoners escaped may have been an intentional attempt to delay the count, Hutchens said, but that she didn't think there had been a great delay.
This story has been updated.