California ESL teacher: Did she help three prisoners' escape?

An English as a second language teacher, Nooshafarin Ravaghi, likely aided the three prisoners in their escape, police say.

Orange County Sheriff's Department/AP
This undated photo provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Department shows Nooshafarin Ravaghi. Ms. Ravaghi who taught English classes at Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana, Calif., was was arrested Thursday, on suspicion of helping three inmates escape the lockup. She was arrested nearly a week after the men — one an alleged killer — cut their way out of the jail and rappelled down an outside wall last Friday.

The three violent inmates who escaped from a maximum security California jail had help from a teacher who taught classes at the jail, authorities say.

Although investigators only recently discovered evidence suggesting that Nooshafarin Ravaghi, an English-as-a-second-language teacher, may have assisted the prisoners, police have long suspected that the escapees had help.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Lieutenant Jeff Hallock said earlier this week that law enforcement was investigating the possibility that the prisoners had inside help.

"We’re going to take a look at everybody who may have been assigned there," Lieutenant Hallock told the Associated Press. "What I can assure you is that the compromises in security have been shored up."

The three escapees, Hussein Nayeri, Bac Duong, and Jonathan Tieu, were all violent offenders. Mr. Tieu had been charged with murder, attempted murder, and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. Mr. Duong was also charged with murder.

Mr. Nayeri, the man investigators assume was the mastermind behind the jailbreak, was charged with kidnapping and torture. When she heard of his escape, the prosecutor in that case compared him to Hannibal Lecter, the chilling villain in the horror movie "The Silence of the Lambs."

Nayeri was first arrested in 2005, when he was charged in a drunk driving accident that killed his friend Ehsan Tousi. His life devolved into a series of arrests and flight. In the most recent case, prosecutors say he kidnapped and tortured a marijuana distributor with a blowtorch, before fleeing the United States to Iran, where he was born.

Eventually, US authorities caught up to him in Prague and he was awaiting trial at the time of Friday’s escape.

Nayeri met Ms. Ravaghi recently, through an English as a second language class that she was teaching through the Rancho Santiago Community College. According to Hallock, "some type of relationship … developed between the two."

Ravaghi, like Nayeri, was born in Iran. She produced children’s books, and had been vetted by the sheriff’s department before beginning work at the prison.

Authorities say the prisoners sawed through a metal grate over a plumbing tunnel and other metal in the course of their escape. They also rappelled down a roof with bedsheets. Authorities now believe that the men are traveling in a stolen, white GMC Savana. 

In order to saw through metal, the three prisoners would have needed strong tools, which tipped off investigators to the likelihood that they may have had help.

After an investigation, police arrested Ravaghi on Thursday. She denies giving the prisoners tools. Officials say that she used Google maps to help them plan their escape. Authorities are further examining her role.

The two prisoners who escaped from an upstate New York prison last year, David Sweat and Richard Matt also had help from a female prison employee, Joyce Mitchell.

It is not known whether Ravaghi has obtained an attorney.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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