A homeless San Francisco man is set to be awarded $100,000 for tipping police to the location of two fugitives who escaped from jail in Orange County in January, and three others will get a total of $50,000.
Matthew Charles Hay-Chapman’s reward was approved by the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
More than a week after their escape from the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu were taken into custody Jan. 30, when Hay-Chapman saw their van in the parking lot of a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department had described the van to the public as part of the manhunt to find the escapees, who had cut their way out of their shared cell and rappelled down the side of the jail on Jan. 22.
Hay-Chapman saw Nayeri exit the van and go into a McDonald’s, according to a Board of Supervisors report. He told reporters he flagged down a police patrol car, and officers captured Nayeri as he attempted to flee. Tieu was found hiding in the parked van.
Hay-Chapman was living in Golden Gate Park at the time of the arrests, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported he was 55. Despite being homeless, he read the news online or in a newspaper every day and was thus aware of the hunt for the escaped inmates, the Chronicle reported.
“When they told me about the benefits, that didn’t matter,” Chapman told the Chronicle after the arrests. “I was just doing the right thing.”
A third escapee, Bac Duong, had returned to Santa Ana with a taxi driver whom the prisoners had taken hostage. Duong turned himself in to authorities on Jan. 29.
Three other individuals who also provided information leading to the arrests were given smaller awards by the board on Tuesday. Hazel Javier and Jeffrey Arana were awarded $15,000, while Armando Damien was to be given $20,000.
Javier is the manager of a Target in Rosemead where the escapees bought cellphones on the day of their escape, and Arana is a loss-prevention officer at the store, according to a board report. Javier said two of the men were acting suspiciously in the store, and she monitored their activity. The next day, reviewing surveillance video, Arana connected the three men's images to news of the jail escape.
Damien had posted a white van for sale on Craigslist, and the vehicle was stolen during a test drive by Duong. Records for the cellphones that the men bought at Target led investigators to calls to Damien, who had reported the van stolen to Los Angeles police.
Though one supervisor did not want to give a reward to Damien, saying he simply reported his van stolen, a Sheriff's Department official said Damien went "above and beyond" in his help, providing photos of the stolen van that were in turn recognized by Hay-Chapman.
During the search for the escapees, the board had offered a $150,000 reward — $50,000 for each inmate. The U.S. Marshals Service had offered $10,000 for each inmate, and the FBI pledged another $20,000, making the reward total $200,000 in late January.
It was not clear if federal officials planned to make good on their reward offers, or if that had already happened.
The taxi driver who was kidnapped by the three inmates and held captive for a week, Long Hoang Ma, has filed a $2 million claim against Orange County, saying he suffered severe emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and “fear of death due to horrific events.”
Ma's attorney, Hoang Tu, was at the board meeting Tuesday to unsuccessfully urge the supervisors to provide a reward for his client. The lawyer argued that Ma talked Duong into turning himself in.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer told Ma that he was "very, very sorry" but the board could not approve that use of public funds.
"I feel horrible," Spitzer said. "The right thing to do is to help Mr. Ma, but we don't have the legal authority to do it if we wanted to."