A video newly obtained by NBC4 shows the first-person vantage point, taken on a contraband cellphone, of the daring escape of three men last year from a maximum-security wing at an Orange County jail and scenes from their days on the run.
The trio, along with a cab driver pressed into transporting them, evaded a statewide manhunt for more than a week before two were captured in San Francisco. The third had turned himself in to police.
The video was provided by an attorney connected to the case, not by the Orange County District Attorney's Office, and was clearly heavily edited. It contains voice-overs by one of the escapees, recorded after their capture, giving his version of events and railing against the legal system; pop music as background to their odyssey; news clips about their flight from the law; and — most revealing — the cellphone video of their escape and their time on the run.
In the version above, NBC4 has removed the pop music out of copyright concerns and has blurred the faces of inmates who were not part of the caper. No other portions of the video have been edited by this news station.
A clip shows the inside of the maximum security dorm room, known as Module F, where the men were housed. How the inmates got the cellphones and were able to record in jail is not clear.
"My name is Adam Hossein Nayeri," Nayeri says in voiceover to the video. "You know, a lot of people like to credit us with some Houdini escape act all in eight minutes flat. It's an interesting myth."
"In reality we did leave that mod after count. Not the one they're claiming though. I left that module at least eight hours earlier the night before."
The video is filled with inmates who seem to know Nayeri is recording, but do not react, except for fellow escapee Bac Duong, who flashes a wide grin when the phone is pointed at him.
The video then shows the escape.
Nayeri carefully lifts a sawed-off bunk bed leg, exposing a previously cut metal screen. It is set aside as he disappears into the vent.
The trio crawl through plumbing shafts within the walls of the jail, leaving behind pieces of cloth. Nayeri stops and gives a thumbs up to the cellphone camera at one point.
More metal bars are removed. Jonathan Tieu reacts to the light of the cellphone. Noises from a wind turbine can be heard in the background.
Then they approach the final hurdle as the skyline of downtown Santa Ana comes into view. The inmates have reached the rooftop of the Orange County Jail.
The video does not show how the inmates got to the ground. On the video Nayeri says they had industrial rope, a toolbox, a duffle bag and new clothes.
Both men take turns posing at the corner of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.
Next there is video from inside the white van, where they were sleeping.
"This is our casa for the moment. This is our crib. Water, all the basics. You want some bananas. No, we don't have crack, crystal meth. Don't have that we smoking weed and eating bananas. It's kinda bananas," Nayeri can be heard saying.
A marijuana pipe is flashed. They hold up a bottle of Jack Daniels.
"Friday night in San Francisco, a special Friday night in San Francisco."
The video does not show the moment hours later when they were arrested. Instead, Nayeri narrates the final two minutes of the edited video.
"We scared a lot of people and caused a lot of anxiety and fear and at the end of the day I can't say I feel good about that. I can't."
In another section of the video, Nayeri refers to Long Ma, the taxi driver, who they are charged with kidnapping, and who drove all three inmates north.
"This man is truly a hero," Nayeri says. "I wonder if people will understand what I'm talking about."
Photos show Ma with Tieu on a beach, appearing to pose for the cellphone camera.
"He just radiated this calm fatherly presence," Nayeri says.
On the video Nayeri says he doesn't know what happened, a possible reference to Ma leaving with Bac Duong. Ma would later try to claim the reward money.
"I wish I could help him more," Nayeri says. "I just didn't have $180,000 at the moment."
Tieu stayed behind with Nayeri. Duong came back to Santa Ana and turned himself in.
"This is Bac," Nayeri says about his fellow escapee. "The first man in history to try to collect reward money on himself."
Huong Tu, Ma's attorney, says he's not surprised at the tone of the video.
"What I see is it fits the criteria very well that the defense says none of this happened," Tu said. "But obviously we know the facts that they did escape and definitely there was a kidnap of Mr. Long Ma."
Lt. Lane Lagaret, an Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said the footage is part of an ongoing investigation and is consistent with information OCSD has already supplied verbally to the media.
"We will not provide additional comment on a video narrative that seeks to or make light of criminal actions," he said.
The Orange County District Attorney's Office told NBC4 it would be inappropriate to comment on the video because the case is in litigation.
Before the break out, Duong faced charges including attempted murder, assault with a firearm, first degree residential burglary, and shooting at an inhabited dwelling, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. He had a prior strike conviction for first degree burglary in 1995 in San Diego County, and prior prison convictions for second degree burglary in 2007, reckless evading of a peace officer in 2008, and possession for sale of a controlled substance in 2011.
Nayeri had been facing charges including kidnapping, aggravated mayhem, torture, and first degree residential burglary, officials said.
Tieu faces charges including murder, attempted murder, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, and street terrorism, officials said.
What's in the video above:
- Beginning to 1:35 - Orange County sheriff's officials speak at a news conference, followed by news reports about the jail escape and manhunt.
- 1:36 to 3:13 - A voice of a man identifying himself as Hossein Nayeri speaks over images of the jail, saying the escape "took a few hours to set things up." He says they had a duffle bag and a backpack containing hundreds of feet of high-grade industrial ropes, a toolbox, shoes and clothes.
- 3:14 to 4:26 - Shaky video appears to have been recorded with a cellphone shows the inside of the jail with inmates milling around sleeping quarters.
- 4:27 to 5:20 - A man in an orange OC Jail jumpsuit removes a ventilation cover, then crawls through it, turns around and gives a thumbs-up to the person recording the video.
- 5:21 to 6:51 - Several video clips show void spaces between walls lined with pipelines and a man removing bars from a crawl space entrance.
- 6:52 to 7:17 - Images show a man at night posing for a camera on the jail's roof with barbed-wire edges.
- 7:18 to 9:54 - The man narrates over images again, with escapees Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu posing for photos in plain clothes at the beach with the cab driver they kidnapped. "His presence kept a loose cannon from acting out," the voice says.
- 9:55 to 12:28 - More news reports of the escape and images of the escapees posing in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
- 12:29 to 13:33 - Images purport to show the stolen white utility van the escapees traveled and lived in. Inside, there are blankets and pillows, bananas, bottled water and a lawn chair. The men pose with a marijuana pipe and a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.
- 13:34 to end - The voice dubs Orange County law enforcement "the reality distortion club."