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OC jail escape: Deputies may have improperly counted inmates

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said an internal investigation into how three inmates managed to escape and go undetected for about 16 hours has left her “extremely troubled.”

She has revealed deputies at Central Men’s Jail may not have followed department policy on keeping track of inmates inside the jail on the day three of them made a daring escape from the roof. 

The three inmates — Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu, and Bac Duong — were accounted for during a head count at 4:45 a.m. on January 22. Shortly after, they crawled through the jail’s plumbing tunnels and onto an unsecured area of the roof to escape.

Their absence was not noticed until a 9 p.m. headcount, despite the fact that deputies are expected to conduct two additional inmate counts throughout the day, Hutchens said.

Those daytime counts — called "administrative" or "paper" counts — are a bit different, as inmates frequently move outside their housing units to attend classes, health appointments or court hearings. 

While jail deputies can’t physically count inmates when they are not in their dorms, deputies are expected to call these other locations to confirm that missing inmates are actually there.  

Hutchens said the department is looking into whether those calls were made.

“It does not appear to be that way because they went undetected as missing for quite a while,” she said.

It wasn’t until after the evening count, when inmates are matched to their jail identification card on file, that deputies realized the three men were gone.

Hutchens called it an embarrassment.

“That created a delay for us and it took us a while to catch up to them and where they were going,” she said.

The union that represents Orange County jail deputies wrote a letter to the Sheriff on January 29 calling for the removal of the captain in charge of Central Men’s Jail.

President Tom Dominguez of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs signed the letter.

It accused jail management of ignoring concerns from rank-and-file custody deputies brought up last February that the “administrative” inmates counts during the day weren’t properly conducted in accordance to department policy.

Dominguez said deputies were told to ignore department policy and continue counting inmates the way they always have. 

"Our deputies were doing exactly what your management team directed them to do," he said.

As part of the larger escape investigation, Hutchens said the department has made corrections to the policy and is looking into what may have gone wrong.   

Hutchens said on Monday that no discipline has been meted out; no one’s been transferred.

The three inmates that escaped were all back in Orange County jail early Sunday.

They are now being held in one-man jail cells, sheriff's officials said. They will require handcuffs, leg shackles, and a two-deputy escort with a supervisor watching when outside their cells.