Prosecutors and the County Counsel’s office have spent two years trying to keep the public from learning that Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies allegedly enticed a confidential informant to supply potent illegal narcotics to a fugitive murder suspect so they could apprehend and interrogate him while he was semi-comatose.
Though this latest OCSD mess remains officially hidden in sealed court documents, evidence reviewed by the Weekly indicates the episode stems from a Sept. 2015 manhunt for Craig Tanber, then a 37-year-old member of the white supremacist gang Public Enemy Number One (PEN1) and wanted for the murder of an Iranian American college student.
On the run for four days following the stabbing death of 21-year-old Shayan Mazroei at a Laguna Niguel bar and seeing his photograph on Southern California television news broadcasts, Tanber hid in a Westminster Motel 6 after his ex-girlfriend used a credit card and Expedia to reserve room 269 for him, according to OCSD records.
His defense lawyers believe deputies convinced the woman to give the suspect heroin by threatening to have a SWAT team kill him if she didn’t cooperate.
Deputies twice interrogated a rambling, stuttering Tanber, who was captured in the Motel 6 bed while stoned. Those interviews produced multiple self-incriminating statements pertaining to the murder at Patsy’s Irish Pub. Tanber friend Elizabeth Thornburg and the victim spat on one another in a dispute over a never materialized pool game. The white supremacist, who served an 11-year prison sentence for a 2004 murder, considered Mazroei’s conduct disrespectful. Still high on heroin in the presence of the deputies, he recalled seeing a wad of spit on Thornburg’s face, calling the engineering student a “punk coward bitch,” asking him, “Why do Muslims hate women so much?” and eventually driving a three-inch steel blade into his heart after trading punches.
Though he claimed he’d been trying “to be good” after leaving prison, he described the killing as “street justice.”
Prosecutors initially hoped to use Tanber’s post-arrest statements against him at a future trial, but decided to abandon that plan in hopes of keeping the deputies’ tactics buried from public consumption.
(In 2016, the California Court of Appeal slammed local prosecutors for shielding deputies accused of wrongdoing from accountability in a death penalty case.)
Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, bright neon lace-free shoes, body chains and large black “8s” tattooed on the bottom sides of his forearms, a surprisingly relaxed Tanber entered a Nov. 17 hearing inside Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals’ Santa Ana courtroom, where the parties spoke cryptically.
(White supremacists celebrate Adolf Hitler by using the number 8, which signifies H, the eighth letter of the alphabet. Together, two 8s represent “HH” or “Heil Hitler.”)
Though a key defense motion remains sealed and an OCSD attorney is hoping to win major redactions before its public release, it is clear Tanber’s lawyers seek sanctions, including up to dismissal of the case, in response to their “outrageous governmental conduct” claims.
Goethals indicated that allegations against the deputies will prompt special evidentiary hearings in early 2018, a move Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt, who maintains evidence of Tanber’s guilt is overwhelming, strenuously opposed.
“The People have pledged they will not introduce evidence that was obtained as a result of the defendant’s arrest, including his post-arrest, post-Miranda statements,” Hunt stated. “Even if this court presumed, for the purposes of analyzing the defense motion, that all of the defendant’s allegations were true, dismissal would be improper. Rather, the appropriate remedy for an improper arrest is the suppression of the evidence that was the fruit of said improper arrest and involuntary statements.”
Goethals said he needs to understand the facts by placing the deputies under oath to determine the proper judicial response.
Last month, a civil jury found Tanber, who is unemployed and destitute, financially liable for the killing. That decision represented a victory for the owners of Patsy’s and their security guard, Mark Fillingham.
Mazroei’s parents maintained that Fillingham hadn’t been professionally trained and should have prevented Tanber from engaging their son after he’d stated aloud he planned to stab his unarmed target.
They’ve also lobbied Tony Rackauckas’ district attorney’s office without success to label the death a hate crime because their son’s nationality became an issue before the killing.
The defendant, who faces the high probability of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted, remains locked inside Orange County’s Theo Lacy Jail.
Goethals scheduled a Jan. 5 hearing to announce which portions of the defense motion will be unsealed.