Outrageous Government Acts Claim Won’t Derail Murder Case for Ex-PEN1 Gangster

Parents of murdered 22-year-old college student await justice

For Shahzad and Hamid Mazroei, the pain of trekking to Orange County Superior Court for the last four years shows on their somber faces during each of dozens and dozens of trips. The couple lost their son Shayan, a 22-year-old college student, in a 2015 murder inside a Laguna Niguel bar. They’ve believe he was the victim of a hate crime because the accused killer was once a member of Public Enemy Number One Death Squad (PEN1), a white supremacist gang.

Prosecutors have the bar’s grainy surveillance footage they say proves Craig Tanber stabbed Shayan in the heart before fleeing. Those officials assumed the case was a cinch to win. But a sheriff’s deputy, Victor Valdez, gave conflicting statements about events surrounding Tanber’s motel capture before invoking the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

There’s no doubt about the reason for the suspicious move. The public defender’s office had discovered evidence Valdez may have been involved in a seedy plot with Adriean Vasquez, a confidential informant. Vasquez—and you can’t make this up—is tied to The Real Housewives of Orange County through her mother whose ex-husband was on the show and Kim Jong-un pal Dennis Rodman. She also gave birth to Tanber’s young son. 

For about the last 18 months, People v. Tanber stalled to answer a question: Should the case be dismissed if Valdez committed outrageous government conduct by encouraging Vasquez—whom he seemed to enjoy romantically, according to records—convinced her to lure the fugitive to a Garden Grove motel, ply him was a large dose of heroin and alert them when he was passed out? 

California courts have made it near impossible for the defense to win outrageous government conduct claims. The conduct must “shock the conscience” and “offend even hardened sensibilities.” The U.S. Supreme Court added that the government employee’s behavior must be so offensive “that it did not comport with traditional ideas of fair play and decency.

In a 2014 ruling, the California Court of Appeal considered an outrageous government conduct claim stemming from a 2006 murder inside the Theo Lacy Jail. For as long as 40 minutes, inmates brutally tortured, sodomized and killed John Derek Chamberlain in an area supervised by multiple deputies. Inmates would later accuse those deputies of igniting the attack by telling them falsely that Chamberlain was a child molester. Those deputies, who erased key video footage and doctored official logs for the period during the murder, never faced even a misdemeanor charge. 

A three-justice appellate panel called the deputies’ conduct in the death “abhorrent.” They added, “We recognize that because of the extreme nature of their conduct, which violated the public trust and the spirit of what we expect from those we entrust to enforce the law.” Nonetheless, the justices ruled the misconduct did not violate any constitutional right. 

Tanber

That was the monumental courthouse hurdle facing Tanber’s defense and, not surprisingly, Judge Richard J. Oberholzer this week refused to end the case before trial. The move rightfully relieved the Mazroei family.

“The motion to dismiss the charges against Tanber due to allegations of outrageous government misconduct are not relevant to the fact that he is on video stabbing my son, and these allegations have delayed justice for Shayan,” the victim’s mother told reporters.

Mr. Mazroei said, “We can finally look forward to our day in court to get justice for the senseless murder of our only child.”

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6.

CNN-featured investigative reporter 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; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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