Two of the three alleged escaped inmates are presumed by authorities to have ties to Vietnamese gangs

By Greg Hanlon
Updated January 25, 2016 02:35 PM
Credit: Courtesy Orange County Sheriff's Office

brightcove.createExperiences(); California authorities are searching for three inmates who allegedly escaped from the Orange County Central Men’s Jail on Friday by rappelling down four stories from the roof using makeshift ropes. The inmates, who were being held on charges for violent crimes, are presumed armed and dangerous, authorities say.

Jonathan Tieu, 20; Hossein Nayeri, 37; and Bac Tien Duong, 43, allegedly escaped Friday by cutting through a half-inch steel screen in their holding tank and crawling through plumbing tunnels to make their way to the roof before rappelling down, Lt. Jeff Hallock, Public Information Officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, tells PEOPLE.

The trio were at Friday’s 5 a.m. headcount but were not at a headcount that evening. Hallock said at a Monday press conference that authorities believe the alleged escape occurred shortly after the 5 a.m. headcount.

Shortly before the scheduled 8 p.m. headcount that evening, there was a fight in the jail, which authorities believe may have been a plot to divert staff to delay the discovery of the alleged escape, Hallock says.

The men were in the same holding tank, which holds 68 inmates in one space, but Hallock says “there’s nothing to indicate that they knew each other before they were in the same tank.”

The ropes the inmates allegedly used were made of tied-together bedsheets and possibly clothing, Hallock says.

Hallock says that the escape allegedly involved meticulous planning and that the inmates breached significant amounts of steel, rebar, and metal.

He says authorities are investigating whether the alleged escapees – who were last seen in their orange prison jumpsuits – had help from inside or outside the prison.

Two Suspects Allegedly Tied to Vietnamese Gangs

Tieu had been held on $1 million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. Hallock says that Tieu is “a documented Vietnamese gang member,” and that his alleged crimes are believed to be gang-related.

Nayeri had been held without bond since September 2013 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three others are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner and driving him to a remote desert spot, where they falsely believed he had hidden money. There, the men allegedly set fire to his body, poured bleach over him and cut his penis off, Lt. Dave Sawyer of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said at Monday’s press conference.

Sawyer also said that Nayeri has a prior murder conviction.

Duong had been held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and other charges. Sawyer said that Duong is “an associate of a Vietnamese gang.”

All three men had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Authorities do not know whether the inmates are together or if they’ve separated. But Sawyer said, “We feel they may be embedded somewhere in the [Vietnamese] community.”

Speaking of Tieu in particular, Sawyer said, “We think it’s a strong possibility he may have connected to fellow gang members.”

At the press conference, a sheriff’s deputy made a plea to the Vietnamese community in Vietnamese to provide information on the suspects. Hallock tells PEOPLE that authorities are “not getting as many calls as we’d have liked” on the suspects.

Sawyer said at the press conference that the escaped inmates are “extremely dangerous and should be presumed to be armed” based on their alleged crimes. “We can only presume that these individuals wanted to get out of jail really bad and that they have armed themselves,” Sawyer said.

The FBI and U.S. Marshalls are offering a combined $50,000 reward for information leading to the inmates apprehension. Anyone with information is encouraged to call 714-628-7085.