By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A teacher arrested in connection with the escape of three inmates from a Southern California jail was ordered freed on Monday after prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge her with a crime.
Authorities had previously said that teacher Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, met inmate Hossein Nayeri, the 37-year-old accused mastermind of the escape, in an English-as-a-second-language class at the Orange County Jail and that their relationship had progressed beyond that of teacher and student before the Jan. 22 breakout.
But Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told a news conference on Monday that Ravaghi had been cooperative with investigators since being taken into custody last week and that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against her.
Rackauckas also said that a man accused of smuggling jail-break tools the three men had been arrested and would face charges in the high-profile escape. It was not immediately clear what connection that man, identified as Loc Ba Nguyen, had to the escapees.
Nayeri, who is accused of the 2012 mutilation torture of a kidnap victim, broke out of the Orange County jail along with fellow inmates Bac Duong, 43, and Jonathan Tieu, 20.
Duong surrendered to authorities on Friday in Santa Ana. Nayeri and Tieu were captured about 375 miles away in San Francisco after their stolen van was spotted in a Whole Foods supermarket parking lot.
During a separate news conference on Monday, Orange County Sheriff's Captain Jeff Hallock gave additional details of the fugitives' movements during the time they were on the lam. He said they kidnapped a taxi driver and held him hostage for several days.
Hallock said the three men drove with the taxi driver to the San Francisco Bay area, where Nayeri and Duong had a "physical fight" over whether to kill their captive and bury his body.
All three men have been returned to the Orange County Jail and placed in one-man isolation cells to guard against another escape, Hallock said.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has expressed concern that the men's escape went unnoticed by jail guards for 16 hours. She has launched an internal investigation of the incident.
Nayeri, Tieu and Duong made their getaway by cutting through steel grating inside the jail, climbing through a plumbing conduit to the roof and lowering themselves four floors to the ground with bed sheets.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Dan Grebler)