Case of escaped California inmate highlights difficulty in deporting criminals

SANTA ANA, Calif. - An inmate who along with two others escaped from a California jail had been ordered deported to Vietnam in 1998 but has been in this country running up a long police record, immigration officials said.

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Bac Duong, 43, came to the United States legally in 1991 but was ordered removed seven years later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement Tuesday.

The order came shortly after he served time in state prison on a 1997 burglary conviction, state records show.

The case is one of thousands involving criminal immigrants who federal authorities want to deport but haven't been able to because their native countries wouldn't take them back.

In 2012, ex-convict Binh Thai Luc was charged with killing five people in San Francisco after Vietnam didn't issue the travel documents needed to repatriate him.

Immigration officials said they took Duong into custody in 2003 and released him the following year. He continued to check in with authorities as required until 2014, the statement said.

During that time, he also faced a series of charges involving burglary and drug possession and did stints in state prison. Last year, he was charged with attempted murder and assault in the shooting of a man outside a home in Santa Ana.

Federal officials can't keep immigrants locked up indefinitely while they await deportation. Most must be released after six months, except those accused of posing a terrorist threat or deemed especially dangerous.

For many years, Vietnam did not honour U.S. government requests to repatriate deportees. In 2008, Vietnam agreed to provide travel documents for deportees but only those who entered the U.S. since July 1995.

Duong escaped from the Orange County jail on Friday along with Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, by sawing through a quarter-inch thick grill on a dormitory wall and climbing through plumbing tunnels to reach an unguarded area of the roof. There, the men moved aside razor wire and rappelled to the ground using bed linen.

All three are considered dangerous and were awaiting trial in separate violent crimes.

Authorities have focused their search in the county's sizable Vietnamese-American community, where sheriff's officials say two of the men have ties to gangs.

Tieu had been held at the county jail since 2013, accused of murder and attempted murder.

Nayeri was arrested in 2014 on charges including kidnapping and torture. Authorities said he abducted a marijuana dealer, burned him with a blow torch and cut off his penis because Nayeri thought the man had buried money in the desert.

The men were gone for as long as 16 hours before officials noticed they were missing from the common dorm they share with more than 60 other inmates at Orange County Central Jail. An attack on a guard delayed a Friday night head count further.

Authorities have detected some problems with how inmates were counted at the jail, Hallock told reporters Tuesday. Twice a day, in the morning and evening, jail personnel match photos to each inmate. At three other times, they check that the number of inmates matches jail records, he said.

"The sheriff is extremely troubled by the length of time it took to determine the three inmates housed in a maximum-security jail were unaccounted for," he said.

It was the first escape in nearly three decades from the California facility built in 1968. It holds 900 men and is in Santa Ana, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Federal and county authorities are offering a total of $200,000 for information leading to their capture.


Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.


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