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OC jail roof has been the 'common denominator' in past inmate escapes

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, O.C. Sheriff's officials said Tuesday.

Over the last few days, since three inmates escaped the jail early Friday morning, O.C. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her deputies have repeatedly drawn attention to the jail’s age and criticized the facility’s design.

During an approximately seven-minute news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Lt. Jeff Hallock said inmates at Central Men's jail in Santa Ana regularly access the roof for exercise.

“This is one of the many design flaws of a more transitory jail built in 1968,” he said.

Hallock said newer jails don’t allow inmates on the roof because recreation occurs inside the facility.

The escapees – Bac Duong, 43, Hossein Nayeri, 37,  and Jonathan Tieu, 20 – cut through a steel grate inside a dormitory-style tank 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.

There’s been no sign of the escapees so far.

Hallock said Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is "extremely troubled" about the length of time it took to discover the inmates were missing--and the manner of their escape.

While sheriff's officials have pointed to the jail's age, others have started raising questions about whether the department has taken necessary steps to secure the jails.

Year after year, the Orange County Grand Jury has issued an annual review of the jails warning video surveillance was inadequate, including on the roof of the Santa Ana county jail. 

“All the jails have inadequate video equipment. The video equipment itself is not the hindrance. The cost to upgrade the infrastructure to accommodate new updated equipment is the limiting factor,” the 2013-2014 report stated.

Hutchens in her response to the Grand Jury findings wrote “financial resources” stood in the way of adding upgraded video equipment.

Last year, the Grand Jury recommended the department closely monitor and expedite a five-year plan of future funding worth $10.8 million for installing 1,500 to 2,000 video surveillance cameras in the jails.

Hallock did not take questions at Tuesday’s news briefings and was not available to answer whether new equipment had been installed.

The Orange County Register reports no new cameras have been added to the roof of Central Men's Jail.

Orange County supervisors dodged questions Tuesday morning about the Grand Jury criticisms.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the Board of Supervisors and county law enforcement “cannot be distracted by the side questions – meaningful and important and need to be answered in due time – but not today.”

He said the main focus should be on apprehending the three inmates.

The reward for information leading to their arrests is now $200,000.