A man charged with a fatal stabbing at a Laguna Niguel bar lost a bid Tuesday to have the case dismissed based on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct involving his arrest.
Judge Richard Oberholzer, who was called in to preside over the evidentiary hearing because Orange County Superior Court jurists were recused from the case, ruled the alleged misconduct in the arrest of the defendant did not warrant dumping a murder charge.
Craig Matthew Tanber, 41, is accused in the Sept. 8, 2015, stabbing death of 22-year-old Shayan Mazroei at Patsy’s Irish Pub.
Tanber’s attorney, Alisha Montoro of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, alleged sheriff’s deputies used two confidential informants to track down the defendant in a motel room and then directed one of the informants, the mother of Tanber’s son, to inject him with heroin before his arrest and then wrongly questioned the “incoherent” suspect.
Montoro also argued that deputies withheld and destroyed evidence such as “sexting” messages sent from the informant, Adrien Vasquez, to her handler, Deputy Victor Valdez. When Oberholzer questioned the relevance of that evidence, Montoro argued that it should have been turned over to defense attorneys so they could use it to impeach Valdez before a grand jury, which indicted Tanber.
Montoro also attacked the testimony of Valdez, who took the stand under limited immunity, for repeatedly saying “I don’t recall” to stymie further questioning. She said it was well known among the deputies that Vasquez was a heroin addict and that they gave her $300 and dropped her off in a high-drug-trafficking neighborhood before she went to see Tanber.
As for the questioning of Tanber, Oberholzer noted the defendant allegedly told his interrogators that he didn’t think Mazroei would die from the stabbing, which would likely be inadmissible in a trial anyway. Prosecutors have vowed to not use any of the statements in the trial.
Montoro argued that Valdez “has a pattern of breaking the law and the rules … when it comes to (Vasquez),” and alleged that he offered “self-serving” testimony to save his job. The attorney said Valdez asked Vasquez to send him nude photos of herself.
Oberholzer criticized defense motions in the case for implying Valdez and Vasquez had a sexual relationship when the evidence indicated otherwise.
Montoro countered that the two had an “inappropriate” sexually charged relationship based on the text messages, but Oberholzer said it appeared Vasquez was flirtatious and Valdez may have been playing off of that.
“She rather enjoyed the attention garnered by her physical appearance,” Oberholzer said. “The deputy who was her handler was using that trait … for his law enforcement purposes.”
Oberholzer also doubted the theory that deputies directed the informant to get Tanber high so they could elicit a confession. He noted that Tanber had a fear of needles and asked Vasquez to inject the drug into him.
The judge concluded that the allegations “do not rise to the level of governmental misconduct,” and that the deputies were “working with a class of individuals in which you have to adjust your normal” behavior.
“None of these are governmental misconduct warranting dismissal of this case,” the judge said.
Montoro said after the hearing that she was “disappointed in the court’s ruling” and would consider an appeal.
“I don’t think he accurately recounted the evidence,” Montoro told reporters.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who attended many of the hearings, said the evidence “was disturbing at best.” But Oberholzer “made the correct ruling,” Spitzer added.
“My office takes very seriously any allegations of misconduct by members of law enforcement and will investigate such allegations as warranted by the evidence,” Spitzer said. “All investigations will be done fairly and thoroughly, and the results will be disclosed to the public as permitted by law.”
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