Deputies Sue Sheriff Over Jail Operations They Claim Put Guards at Risk
The OC deputy union hand delivered a letter to Sheriff Hutchens seeking the immediate removal of Capt. Chris Wilson.
Mugshot courtesy of Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 11, FEB. 12, 10:25 A.M.: Seeking to catch some of the heat from the recent escape by three dangerous inmates, the union that represents Orange County sheriff's deputies filed a lawsuit against the county, their department, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the Board of Supervisors over safety concerns at the Central Men's Jail. “We have been voicing our concerns about the safety at the Central Men’s Jail for years,” says Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS). “Those longstanding concerns coupled with a more violent inmate population and the recent significant staffing reductions at the Central Men’s Jail forced us to take immediate action and file this lawsuit. This is about the safety of our members, the jail staff, the inmates and ultimately the public we are sworn to protect.” Reacted sheriff's spokesman Lt. Mark Stichter: "The sheriff is going to need time to review that lawsuit obviously and to be able to respond to it next week." Before the final two inmates were captured on Jan. 30, Dominguez went public with the union's demand that Hutchens remove Capt. Chris Wilson, claiming the commander of the Santa Ana jail directed deputies to ignore department policy regarding the counting of inmates. Hutchens responded by saying all aspects of jail operations are being investigated but that there would be no personnel changes at this time. The AOCDS lawsuit filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court alleges the department also issued a statement conceding there was a problem with counting inmates—without pointing out that Wilson was the official who implemented the process that was used. That process and jail under-staffing may have led to "horrific consequences," including a jail fight that resulted in an unspecified in-custody death, a deputy breaking his hand and the Jan. 22 escape, according to the suit. The long time it took to unravel the break out and the separate discovery of blades hidden by inmates are also blamed on under-staffing, which is especially critical in the dining facility and violates the union's collective bargaining agreement, according to the suit. Working batteries for communications equipment is another issue the union blames on the department "cutting corners." The complaint states the union is compelled to seek a court mandate to protect the safety of union members because concerns raised a year ago and again right after the escape "are being either immediately dismissed or deliberately ignored." Attacks on jail guards, who are sworn deputies, are becoming more violent and commonplace, the complaint alleges. After Assembly Bill 109 led to the release of many non-violent offenders, the sheriff's department changed policy to allow more violent offenders to fill dorm-style housing rather than individual cells, the suit claims. This also caused more violent offenders to land jail jobs in the kitchen and maintenance, where they have more easy access to sharp objects, according to the complaint. The suit also takes aim at the hiring of relatively inexperienced staff to handle these violent inmates. The suit seeks an injunction to halt the practices that are putting deputies at risk and reinstatement of the full terms of the union's labor agreement, especially as it pertains to proper staffing levels.
Bac Huong, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu are back in custody.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 10, FEB. 11, 9:17 A.M.: A homeless man in San Francisco should receive a $100,000 reward from the County of Orange for information he provided to law enforcement that led to the capture of two escaped Men's Central Jail escapees, according to two county supervisors. Matthew Charles Hay-Chapman, 55, spotted Hossein Nayeri emerge from a white van parked at the side of a Whole Foods market and walk into a nearby McDonald's on Jan. 30. Hay-Chapman then flagged down San Francisco police officers, who arrested Nayeri as well as Jonathan Tieu, who was hiding in the van. Four days before the capture Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer made a motion—seconded by his colleague Andrew Do—to offer a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the capture of each of the three escaped inmates. Spitzer and Do on Wednesday prepared a report calling for Hay-Chapman to get the $100k. “The public’s engagement provided law enforcement with the information necessary to capture these fugitives,” says Do in a statement. “Authorizing the reward is only part of our ongoing review process to ensure that we prevent anything like this from happening again.” Meanwhile, Spitzer issued a letter to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens requesting an expedited status report on the security of the jail roof. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to receive the update in closed session on Feb. 23.
This is no longer true.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 9, FEB. 1, 12:08 P.M.: English teacher Nooshafarin Ravaghi was released from custody today because there is insufficient evidence to charge the 44-year-old Lake Forest resident with a crime, according to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Ravaghi is being released on her own recognizance, although her passport is being held to ensure she does not leave the country, explained Rackauckas, adding, "She's being cooperative. She has every reason to stay." The district attorney said, however, that Loc Ba Nguyen is expected to be charged with assisting the escape by smuggling tools and other materials used in the escape into the jail. He is neither an inmate nor a jail employee, Rackauckas said. Meanwhile, at a press conference this morning, sheriff's Lt. Jeff Hallock disclosed that the three inmates planned their escape for at least six months and had plenty of help to whisk them away on the outside. More shocking was the disclosure that once they fled the jail, they abducted a taxi driver and drove him to Northern California, where two of the fugitives argued about killing him. Inmate Hossein Nayeri held a gun on the unidentified cabbie, who spent two nights with the fugitives in Southern California before they stole the white van in South Los Angeles and drove north, Hallock says. Nayeri and inmate Bac Duong had a physical fight in an Alameda hotel room over whether or not to kill the taxi driver, who returned with Duong to Santa Ana, where Duong turned himself in, Hallock explained.
UPDATE NO. 8, FEB. 1, 9:14 A.M.: Perhaps lost in the fog of this weekend's capture was the revelation that the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs hand delivered a letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens "requesting the immediate removal" of Capt. Chris Wilson from his command of the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana as well as an investigation of how Orange County jails are managed. (Read full details and the letter in Update No. 6.) The letter prompted this response from Hutchens: "I have been very clear from the onset of the jail escape investigation that I am deeply concerned about the length of time it took to recognize that three maximum security inmates were unaccounted for. I have initiated an internal administrative investigation to determine the facts of what occurred, contributing factors to the escape and inmate count procedures. Until the investigation is complete, I am unable to discuss further. Please know that we have taken immediate action to ensure that this situation will not happen again, and that the safety of our community is my highest priority. ... There have been no personnel changes as of this time." But after that statement was issued, deputy union president Tom Dominguez said he received word another sheriff's lieutenant had taken over command of the jail.
In other escape developments over the weekend:
* At a news conference, Hutchens said "a number" of .380 ammunition rounds were found inside the van, but no weapon was recovered in San Francisco.
* Now that all the escapees are back in Orange County, " they will be housed in a different area, in a different manner" at the jail they broke out of, Hutchens said. "We have been looking at the causes of the escape from day one. The focus shifts, continuing to look at where they system failed us. That will take some time."
* Despite the criticisms, members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors praised the sheriff's department this weekend. “We are grateful for the expertise and hard work of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and its collaboration and leadership in working with other law enforcement agencies,” said Board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett. “They deployed every resource available and were unwavering in their pursuit of these hardened criminals.” Supervisor Michelle Steel: “Despite the dangerous nature of these criminals, I am thankful our sheriff’s deputies arrested the escapees without incident or risk to the public." Supervisor Todd Spitzer: “Our sheriff called on her far-reaching network of law enforcement partners to bring these criminals back into custody. My colleagues and I acted quickly to partner with Sheriff Hutchens and contribute $150,000 from the County to the increase the reward to $200,000. We were proud to lend her our full support in order to apprehend the fugitives.” Supervisor Andrew Do: “Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Orange County's deputy sheriffs' efforts led directly to the public assistance that resulted in these arrests. I will be working with my colleagues to make sure that our law enforcement agencies have the necessary resources and take steps to prevent an escape like this from happening again.”
* District Attorney Tony Rackauckas also praised the sheriff in a separate statement: "Kudos to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, all law enforcement, the media, and the public for working together to bring these three escaped inmates to justice with no civilian or police getting hurt or killed. By all of us working together, these escapees ran out of rocks to hide under." T-Rack noted his office helped in the capture by writing and approving search warrants, entering international warrants with Interpol, providing legal expertise throughout the investigation, and providing dozens of OCDA investigators to the sheriff's department for investigation and surveillance assistance.
* The three inmates (Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong) and the jail teacher who helped them escape (Nooshafarin Ravaghi) are scheduled to appear today in the Central Jail Court, according to the sheriff's website.
UPDATE NO. 7, JAN. 30, 3:44 P.M.: The remaining two Orange County Jail escapees were captured today in a San Francisco Whole Foods market parking lot, according to the sheriff's department. A Baghdad by the Bay resident recognized the white van used by Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu in the market's lot around 11:30 a.m. and alerted a nearby San Francisco Police Department officer in the area on another matter. When cops approached the van, Nayeri fled on foot but was captured a short distance away, deputies say. Tieu was found still hiding in the van. No one was injured in the capture, and now all three who fled Men's Central Jail eight days ago are back in custody. "Sheriff Sandra Hutchens would like to thank both the public and the media for their assistance in apprehending these fugitives," reads a statement from the agency.
UPDATE NO. 6, JAN. 30, 9:51 A.M.: The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs hand delivered a letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens "requesting the immediate removal" of Capt. Chris Wilson from his command of the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana as well as an investigation of how Orange County jails are managed. Signed by the deputy union's president Tom Dominguez, the letter claims his members were directed a year ago to start ignoring Orange County Sheriff's Department policy regarding the counting of inmates—a procedure that has come under sharp focus because of the recent escape of three "very dangerous" (OCSD words) inmates. Indeed, Dominguez alleges the policy was being ignored at the time of the escape—and he puts the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of Wilson, who must be ousted because, "We cannot afford to risk the safety of our members for one more shift." Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff's department, was Mission Viejo's chief of police services before being promoted from lieutenant to captain and being put in charge of the jail in 2013. Click special-bulletin above to read the union's full letter.
In other escape news, sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock says all three escapees were spotted Thursday in San Jose but that Bac Duong somehow made his way back to Santa Ana to surrender Friday. While the search for Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu concentrated on San Jose, Hallock says the pair may be en route to Fresno, where “there may be some associations of one of the suspects," a reference to Nayeri. "I think the longer they’re out of custody, the more desperate they become," Hallock added, "and that makes them more dangerous."
UPDATE NO. 5, JAN. 29, 12:37 P.M.: Bac Duong walked back into lockup in Orange County this morning after indicating he wanted to surrender. "Approximately 25 minutes ago, Bac Duong contacted a civilian on the streets of Santa Ana and stated he wanted to turn himself in," Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said shortly after noon. KCAL 9 is interviewing the husband of Teresa Nguyen, who said his friend Duong walked into their Santa Ana auto electric business between 11:30 a.m. and noon and that she then called authorities. Meanwhile, live television shots from news copters show law enforcement officers with guns drawn searching a Santa Ana location for the other two inmates, opening the doors of several vehicles parked in a lot. The stolen white van has not been found, according to deputies.
Noosha Ravaghi may not have provided the rope but information on where to drop it, according to investigators.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 4, JAN. 29, 11:14 A.M.: More details have emerged about Nooshafarin Ravaghi and her ties to escapee Hossein Nayeri:
* Besides working in the Rancho Santiago Community College District and teaching English-as-a-second-language classes at the jail since July 2015, she is an associate faculty member at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and has her own website, noosharavaghi.com.
* Her bio: Noosha Ravaghi, born in Iran in 1970, spent her first four years in Tehran with her father and paternal grandparents. She spent the next six years of her life traveling with her father to a number of countries, such as the United States, France, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and learning different languages (English, French, Arabic, and Farsi) before she went back to Iran just in time to start high school. After Noosha graduated from high school, she started teaching English as a Foreign Language to students of various ages at different schools. She then decided to study French literature and worked with several magazines proofreading French and English texts and translating literary articles from French into Farsi. Noosha got her Masters in French Literature at University of Tehran in Iran. She then went to France, where she attended Sorbonne–Paris III. In 1997, Noosha went to California, where she got a second Masters, and graduated with honors, in Education–Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at California State University–Fullerton. Noosha is now in Orange County, California, where she has been editing books and teaching English, Farsi, and French to children as well as adults since 1997. She enjoys traveling, watching movies, and writing.
* Though Nayeri and Ravahi are both natives of Iran, there is no information indicating the pair were acquainted before meeting in the jail class, which Nayeri took even though he already spoke English, according to Lt. Jeff Hallock, the sheriff's spokesman.
* "We don't have any information to determine it (the relationship) was in fact romantic," Hallock said. "It was much closer and much more personal than it should have been.''
* The information Ravaghi provided to Nayeri, the alleged mastermind of the escape, included aerial views of the men's jail, the adjacent women's jail and the intake center, Hallock said.
* Suspected of being an accessory to a felony, Ravaghi is currently ineligible for bail, but a judge will likely be asked to set it at $500,000 at a court hearing Monday.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's SWAT units raided two locations in Westminster Thursday evening: an industrial area at Garden Grove Boulevard and Hoover Street and business at Jackson Street and Westminster Boulevard that was reported to be a hangout for some escapees. Nine people were at least temporarily detained at the second location. A television news report this morning indicated a law office was raided. But Hallock said today that warrants were served at a residence and a warehouse overnight, but no arrests were made. Orange County supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do are scheduled this morning to hold a news conference asking for community assistance to help recapture the inmates. Both will assure the Vietnamese community that any information provided to assist the investigation will be treated with confidentiality, according to Jean Pasco, Orange County's manager of public information. The sheriff's hotline is 714.628.7085.
This is the van deputies are looking for.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 3, JAN. 28, 6:19 P.M.: The Orange County Sheriff's Department believes a van reported stolen in South Los Angeles may be connected to at least one of the recent jail escapees. "On January 23, 2016 at 4:40 p.m., a vehicle was reported stolen to LAPD," reads a special bulletin. "The vehicle is associated to the fugitives that recently escaped from the Orange County Central Men’s Jail. The suspect matches the description of Bac Duong, 43." According to Lt. Jeff Hallock, Duong responded to an ad from a private party and took the 2008 white GMC Savana utility vehicle for a test drive, "came back and at some point then took off and drove the vehicle away.'' Although it was only Duong last seen with the van on Saturday, "based on other information we have we feel very strongly that they may still all three be together,'' Hallock said of the missing inmates. Anyone who sees the van, which had paper license plates from Felix Chevrolet with the plate number 8U66466, is asked to call 9-1-1 immediately. "The suspect is considered armed and dangerous," reads the sheriff's bulletin. Information about the vehicle or the escaped inmates can also be called into the sheriff's hotline at 714.628.7085 or Investigations at 714.647.7014. Anonymous tips may be submitted at OCSD.org.
Hallock also says about 10 people have now been arrested in connection with the escape. Among them is a 44-year-old Lake Forest woman who taught English classes at the jail. Nooshafarian Ravaghi, who works for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, has been teaching English-as-a-second-language classes at the jail since July 2015. One of the escaped inmates, Hossein Nayeri, 37, of Newport Beach, took her class and developed a relationship with Ravaghi, Hallock said. "It is believed Ravaghi directly contributed to the escape of the three inmates and provided critical planning tools that aided in their preparation for the escape," the lieutenant said. The exact nature of her alleged assistance was still being investigated, but she is believed to have provided information such as Google maps to Nayeri—the alleged mastermind of the escape, said Hallock, adding that Ravaghi has denied providing Nayeri with any tools used in the escape.
Bac Duong's tattoos
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 2, JAN. 27, 7:06 P.M.: At a news conference today, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens revealed five people believed to be connected to the three inmates who escaped from Men's Central Jail have been arrested and deputies expect to round up more people as the manhunt continues. Hutchens did not provide more details of the arrests, other than saying not all were Vietnamese gang members but all were connected to at least one of the inmates. "We are continuing to focus on a Vietnamese gang that is active in Westminster and Garden Grove,: she said. Meanwhile, her department is "looking at our policies and procedures" at the jail, Hutchens said. "We are looking into the escape itself and how it occurred and whether there was any outside or inside help. We certainly believe at this point that there was outside help. We continue to look at the possibility that there was some inside help as well. We do not know that yet, but we are certainly not closed our minds to that possibility." She conceded the amount of time it took to discover the trio was missing "troubled" her. "We have taken immediate steps to rectify that by changing our count procedures and tightening up in other areas, and we continue to look system-wide at our policies and procedures and that will be ongoing for some time." Hutchens acknowledged the Santa Ana jail is "old" and a "high-maintenance" facility, although some technological improvements can be made there. Get ready to open your wallet, Orange County Board of Supervisors.The sheriff says she believes Hossein Nayeri, 37, of Newport Beach, was the mastermind due to his military training and experience fleeing from lockup. Meanwhile, her department released new photos of 43-year-oled Bac Duong of Santa Ana to give the public a more accurate view of him and his tattoos.
The obviously scalable Men's Central Jail in downtown Santa Ana.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
UPDATE NO. 1, JAN. 27, 6:17 P.M.: Two new statements have been issued concerning the daring inmate escape from the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana. Tom Dominguez, president of the association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, issued a letter about to his union members Tuesday regarding Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown calling for an investigation of the sheriff's department—with quotes that were immediately denounced by her boss, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Saying Brown's comments "were irresponsible, uneducated and have potentially placed herself and others in harm's way," Dominguez continues, "Hundreds of law enforcement professionals have been working nonstop to locate the escaped inmates and her comments have provided an unnecessary distraction from the ultimate goal. It is extremely frustrating that investigative resources which should be dedicated to finding and arresting these fugitives must now be responsible for ensuring the safety of this trial attorney." Dominguez added he did not think Brown's comments were representative of the rest of the county's prosecutors. "I know it is frustrating to hear self-proclaimed 'experts' pontificate about the situation when they truly have no idea the challenges you and your colleagues face daily working in an antiquated facility that has been jerryrigged into a state prison," he wrote. The Sheriff's Department has officially blamed the design of the jail, which unlike newer facilities has its roof double as a recreation area, for the latest escape as well as previous ones. (If I was Musick expansion adverse Irvine, I'd be nervous where this is heading.)
So all this counting and running around and they didn't go straight to the cell and see this?
Orange County Sheriff's Department
The other interesting statement to emerge today came in court documents from the first deputy to notice Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong were missing Friday night. "I immediately checked my court list and noticed that none of them had court earlier in the day,'' Deputy S. Stewart writes. "I also called the second floor guard station to see if they were in an education class, and they were not. I then called the first floor and asked them to search the visiting area in case they had a visit earlier in the day." A call went out to "prowler deputies" for help with another physical body count. Stewart said the initial check was at about 8 p.m. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock has said the first body count was done an hour late due to a disturbance that may have been a diversion to help the trio with their escape. About 8:45 p.m., deputies began scouring the entire jail. "We escorted every inmate out of their housing location, searched the area and escorted them back into their housing location after verifying who they were," wrote Stewart, who questioned seven inmates who all said the same thing: They saw the escapees at the 5 a.m. count and then went back to sleep and did not see them again.
The rope on the jail roof.
Orange County Sheriff's Department
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A separate sheriff's report indicates deputies then turned their attention to the jail's roof "and discovered a trap door on the southern air ventilation tunnel. A white bed sheet was tied into a sling to stand on as a step. The step was tied to the bars and hanging approximately two feet below the opening of the ventilation tunnel. Another white bed sheet was tied to a bar on the right side. This was used as a way for the inmates to pull themselves up into the vent. Inside the vent there were several ventilation louvers removed and missing from their original location." At the northeast corner of the roof, "deputies observed a rope made out of bed sheets tied to the security gate. There was also a brown paper bag with more rope on the floor of the roof, as well as a blanket and two pairs of inmate-issued sandals. Next to the edge of the roof was a section of barbed wire that was cut off. It appears that the three inmates tied the bed sheets together and climbed down the jail wall."
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 27, 6 A.M.: If you look at the online text version of "Escaped prisoners on the run in California may be hiding in Little Saigon," on PRI's The World page, you'll read the location of the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam is broadly but correctly given as Southern California.
But if you listened to the actual report that aired locally on KPCC (89.3 FM), you'll heard host David Leveille refer to "Little Saigon in Los Angeles" or "LA's Little Saigon."
Of course, looking down on Little Saigon from above The World, the community does appear to be part of La-La Land.
While Leveille can therefore be forgiven, the same cannot be said of his guest, Los Angeles Times reporter Ahn Do.
The Saigon-born, second-generation journalist previously toiled at the Orange County Register and Westminster-based Nguoi Viet Daily News. Do not only failed to correct Leveille on the Little Saigon location, she referred to an unnamed "suburb" near the community, meaning she was offered the perfect set-up to get specific about where the hell Little Saigon actually is.
That's small khoai tây to the rest of the world (and The World) given the information Do was passing along: that Little Saigon residents feel a combination of fear, shame and hyper-alertness over the strong possibility one or all of the jail breakers may be holed up there.
"There’s some talk that they could but well be on their way to Bangkok by now, using Thailand as a gateway into Vietnam," she added.
In other developments on the fifth day of the manhunt:
* The Orange County Board of Supervisors quadrupled the reward being offered for information leading to the capture of Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong, from $50,000 to $200,000.
* Authorities were tight-lipped on the details of their search but have said around 30 warrants had been served since the escape was discovered.
* A prosecutor compared Nayeri to Hannibal Lecter and lashed out at the Orange County Sheriff's Department for not keeping a tighter grip on the suspect, saying an investigation of the agency may be warranted. (The irony, of course, being all the calls before the break-out for an investigation of the Orange County District Attorney's office and especially its use of jailhouse informants.) "My first reaction was: Oh, my God, they let Hannibal Lecter out," Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told the Orange County Register. "He is sophisticated, incredibly violent and cunning."
* District Attorney Tony Rackauckas followed that up with a statement of his own, distancing his agency from Brown. T-Rack called the comments about the sheriff's department "inappropriate, uninformed and rash. ... Those statements were not authorized by me or anyone from the OCDA. Those statements do not reflect the position of the OCDA." He added Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' department has "been working tirelessly on tracking these inmates to bring them back to face their charges."
* But then again, there is an investigation, albeit an internal one. Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Hallock told reporters Tuesday afternoon: "We feel very confident that each of the escaped inmates were housed appropriately in a maximum security jail,'' but Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has raised concerns about the tracking of the inmates. "As we stated, we have parallel investigations that are occurring, and the preliminary investigation into the escape and how it occurred has caused the sheriff concerns as to some of the jail inmate count practices and how they were conducted," Hallock said. "Though information is still preliminary at this point, the sheriff is extremely troubled by the length of time it took to determine that three inmates housed in a maximum-security jail were unaccounted for."
* Hallock previously disclosed the discovery of the missing inmates was delayed Friday night when a melee broke out in the jail—holding up the scheduled 8 p.m. inmate count—in what may have been an orchestrated effort to give the escapees more time to elude authorities. "That portion of the (internal) investigation is ongoing," Hallock said Tuesday. "However, immediate steps have been taken to address that specific concern" about the tracking of inmates. "In addition, since the escape occurred, we've conducted a roof-to-basement check of the entire Central Men's Jail."
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