Deputy misconduct could set fatal Laguna Niguel stabbing suspect free

by in News

A judge will soon weigh whether to dismiss a murder case against a man accused of stabbing to death a bar patron in Laguna Niguel, following allegations that he was taken into custody after a sheriff’s deputy induced a drug-addicted informant into shooting up the homicide suspect with heroin.

Craig Tanber

Four years after Craig Matthew Tanber was arrested in the killing of Shayan Mazroei during a confrontation at Patsy’s Irish pub in Laguna Niguel, hearings in Orange County Superior Court this week focused not on the high-profile slaying, but on the alleged actions of a deputy who helped track Tanber down and take him into custody at a Garden Grove motel.

In the midst of a manhunt for Tanber, Deputy Victor Valdez and other members of a sheriff’s gang enforcement team enlisted the help of Adrien Vasquez, who was working for the deputy as a confidential informant and was the mother of Tanber’s son.

Tanber’s attorney, Alisha Montoro, alleges that Valdez, who the defense attorney contends had a sexual relationship with Vasquez, gave Vasquez $300 to buy heroin, watched her drive to an area known for drug sales, then sent her into a hotel room alone with Tanber for several hours before SWAT officers took Tanber into custody. In a call from jail later recounted by his defense attorney, Tanber reportedly indicated that Vasquez shot him up twice with heroin, and that he woke up to the SWAT team inside the hotel room.

Valdez initially refused to answer questions about the Tanber operation, citing his rights against self-incrimination. The DA’s office has since agreed to provide him immunity in order to testify, but he has yet to take the stand. In the meantime, Valdez’s attorney, as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, declined to comment on the allegations against him.

On Wednesday, Vasquez testified that while she was working as an informant she had sent explicit, nude photographs of herself to Valdez, on the deputy’s request, and referred to him as “daddy.” She also testified that Valdez had picked her up when another police agency arrested her for drug possession, then gave her back the heroin the other officers had taken from her.

Vasquez’s testimony on Wednesday ended before she could be asked about the Tanber arrest, or about any allegations of direct sexual contact with Valdez. She was ordered to return to continue testifying on Thursday morning, but did not arrive in court until the mid-afternoon, at which point she requested an attorney.

She once again took the stand on Friday morning, but the judge decided to clear the courtroom and bar the media and the public from watching the remainder of Vasquez’s testimony, citing concerns about her safety.

In court filings, Montoro wrote that the allegations against Vasquez came to light during pretrial hearings in the Tanber case, when Valdez “could not recall specifics, but (said) it was ‘possible’ that he urged, prompted and/or requested a government informant to inject Mr. Tanber with heroin.”

Lt. Patrick Rich, who was supervising Valdez at the time, said the allegations in the court hearing sparked an internal, criminal review within the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Valdez was disciplined for “inappropriate contacts” with Vasquez, the lieutenant testified, and for using his cell phone to record conversations with prosecutors without their knowledge. Valdez, who has since moved from a gang unit to a patrol position in Mission Viejo, was suspended for 120 hours without pay, Rich said.

“He was not fired?” Montoro asked.

“He was not,” Rich responded.

“He was not demoted?” Montoro said.

“He was not,” Rich said, adding that while the department was not formally allowed to bar Valdez from working with informants, “I can tell you deputy Valdez will not handle an informant.”

In response to questions from Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt, several of the other deputies who served with Valdez during the Tanber operation have confirmed they were not working directly with detectives investigating the bar killing, and were not in contact at the time with prosecutors.

Jurors in a civil trial have already awarded $6 million in damages to Mazroei’s family, finding that Tanber was 90 percent at fault for the fatal stabbing, while Mazroei himself was 10 percent at fault. Tanber’s girlfriend at the time of the stabbing, Elizabeth Anne Thornburg, has been charged with being an accessory after the fact.