A diverse Orange County jury this afternoon issued a $6 million judgment in a civil lawsuit stemming from a Southern California white supremacist’s 2015 murder of a 22-year-old Iranian-American student in a Laguna Niguel bar.
The results, however, won’t likely satisfy Shayan Mazroei’s grieving parents, Shahzad and Hamid.
They sought $39.5 million for the loss of their only child, but jurors determined after several days of deliberations to place 90 percent of the blame for the killing on Craig Tanber, the Public Enemy Number One (PEN1) gangster who committed the fatal stabbing; 10 percent of the blame went to the victim, apparently because he did not obey the commands of Mark Fillingham, a security guard at Patsy’s Irish Pub who told him to stay inside the establishment after he’d ordered Tanber and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Thornburg, out.
Given that Tanber, a convicted felon, is a penniless inmate and may never get out of prison, the judgment left Fillingham and the owners of Patsy’s with zero liability for the tragic death.
Michael Alder, the Mazroei family’s trial lawyer, had argued that the pub’s ownership had been negligent for not insisting their security guard undergo professional training and that Fillingham had a duty to keep Tanber, who’d just been released from prison, away from Mazroei after the hoodlum threatened to shank the student.
Instead, the security guard, who believed Tanber was leaving the premises, diverted his attention to a customer who wanted a taxi ride home. While otherwise occupied, Tanber opened the bar door, waved Mazroei outside, sucker-punched him in the face and, as silent but gruesome surveillance footage showed, stabbed him in the heart before running away.
Tensions had ignited minutes earlier, when Thornburg called the victim an “Arab” and a “terrorist” and spit on him three times. Mazroei responded by spitting once and flicking his cigarette at her. She then chased him around a pool table and informed Tanber, who’d been involved in the 2004 murder with a steel claw hammer of a young man in Huntington Beach. The convicted felon told the security guard he planned to use his knife.
“Is it reasonable for [Fillingham] to deal with a taxi call instead of a death threat?” Alder asked jurors before deliberations. “[The security guard] is a nice guy, but he didn’t know what he was doing.”
In his closing statement, Robert T. Bergsten, the attorney who represented Fillingham and Patsy’s, methodically described surveillance footage he said proves the security guard may not have acted perfectly, but had “acted reasonably” to de-escalate tensions.
Bergsten called Tanber “an animal,” adding, “He’s the one person who is solely responsible” for the killing.
It’s the third loss for Mazroei’s parents, who’ve been visibly distraught during the proceedings: Their son is gone, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas denied their request to file the case as a felony hate crime, and now comes the civil jury’s verdict.
[Update, 5:01 p.m: West Coast Trial Lawyers’ Neama Rahmani, who also represented the plaintiffs, issued a statement: "We are satisfied with today’s victory and that the jury awarded in excess of $6 million in damages. The Mazroeis are relieved to put the civil trial behind them, and they now begin preparations for the criminal trial. They believe Craig Tanber should be charged with a hate crime and will continue to urge DA Rackauckas to seek justice, including punishment to the fullest extend the law allows.”]
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.