Three inmates charged with violent crimes including torture and murder have escaped from a California jail and are on the run.
The inmates were last seen at 5am on Friday at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, about 64km (40 miles) southeast of Los Angeles. They could have escaped any time between then and late Friday night, Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said on Saturday.
Hallock said it is the first escape from the facility in at least the past 20 years and could be the first-ever breakout from the jail.
He said the men used tools to cut through thick steel bars and plumbing tunnels before climbing onto the facility’s roof and using makeshift ropes possibly fashioned from bedsheets or clothing to abseil down the outside. It is not known if they had help from people outside the prison.
It was unclear whether the men were armed but they should be considered very dangerous, Hallock said.
“I think the public should expect the worst if they’re encountering them and call 911 and allow the professionals to respond,” Hallock said.
“We believe this was a very sophisticated, very well-thought out plan that may have been in the works for weeks up to months,” Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, told the LA Times. “This is not something they did overnight.”
Guards realised the trio were missing during a body count, which takes place twice a day, at 8pm on Friday. The department is reviewing CCTV from inside the prison, she said.
The inmates include 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu, who had been held on a $1 million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. His case is believed to be gang-related.
Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012.
They drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then cut off his penis, authorities said. They took the dispensary owner’s penis with them “so that it could never be re-attached,” authorities said.
After the crime, Nayeri fled the US to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. He was arrested in Prague in November 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.
The third escaped inmate, 43-year-old Bac Duong, was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and other charges.
The FBI is offering up to a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any of the three escapees.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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