Orange County sheriff’s deputies, testifying Thursday in a hearing on outrageous governmental misconduct allegations in the arrest of a suspect in a fatal stabbing, said they knew a confidential informant helping them was actively using heroin in violation of the department’s policy for use of snitches.
The attorney for Craig Matthew Tanber wants a murder charge against her 41-year-old client tossed based on allegations of misconduct in the use of an allegedly drug-addicted probationer to help track him down following the Sept. 8, 2015, stabbing death of 22-year-old Shayan Mazroei at Patsy’s Irish Pub in Laguna Niguel.
Prosecutors argue that the methods used to arrest Tanber are irrelevant because it will not be part of their case against the defendant.
Attorney Alisha Montoro of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office is basing her case on allegations that a deputy was in an intimate relationship with the snitch, who is accused of injecting heroin into Tanber before SWAT officers stormed his Garden Grove motel room to arrest and then question him.
The informant — Adriean Vasquez — failed to show in court Thursday morning to testify in the evidentiary hearing, but later in the day appeared and then expressed reluctance to take the stand until she could talk to an attorney, prompting the Kern County Superior Court judge presiding over the case to appoint an attorney for her to consult.
All of the Orange County Superior Court judges had to recuse themselves when Judge Larry Yellin, who was the original prosecutor in Tanber’s case, was called as a witness.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Pat Rich testified that he “knew she had a drug issue” when he was first introduced to Vasquez and it was suggested that she work as a confidential informant in early 2015. It didn’t end up panning out because Vasquez did not call back deputies as instructed to apply for the job, he testified.
When Montoro asked Rich if an informant working for the department was allowed to continue in that role if they were breaking the law, he said it would be cause to cut them loose. Vasquez’s alleged heroin use would qualify as law-breaking activity, he acknowledged.
However, he added, “I never signed her up to be a confidential informant.”
Vasquez, however, down the line was tasked with helping to catch Tanber, who remained at large for about three days following the fatal stabbing.
Deputy Victor Valdez was Vasquez’s handler, and Montoro quizzed Rich about a critical performance review of Valdez that concluded he was “difficult to work with” and was “condescending” to rookies.
Valdez listed his use of Vasquez in helping to capture Tanber in his job review, but Rich said she was not completely honest with her handlers and failed to mention that she was the mother of Tanber’s son, Rich testified.
Deputies ended up having to use another confidential informant to help track Tanber, Rich testified.
Vasquez ended up being paid about $2,600 for her help, about the same as the other confidential informant, Rich testified. But Montoro presented evidence that the payout was perhaps twice as much.
Valdez was subjected to a criminal probe by sheriff’s investigators and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to file charges, according to Rich, who oversaw the internal review.
Valdez had secretly recorded conversations with two prosecutors, which is illegal, Rich testified. Investigators retrieved 67 recordings on Valdez’s phone, Rich said.
Montoro also questioned Rich about allegations that Valdez failed to turn over evidence to prosecutors and defense attorneys in some cases. One of the cases included a defendant facing an attempted murder charge and an inmate who escaped jail, Rich testified.
Valdez was ultimately docked a month’s pay for “inappropriate contacts with Ms. Vasquez and the recordings,” Rich testified.
Deputy Boris Garcia testified about embarrassing text message exchanges between himself, Valdez and others as they were surveilling Vasquez as she attempted to lead deputies to Tanber.
At one point, Garcia referred to it as “locker room talk” in reference to apparently sexually charged messages about Vasquez.
Garcia said the deputies on surveillance were “extremely tired” at the time due to a great deal of overtime worked to find Tanber.
Valdez and Vasquez are expected to testify on Friday.
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