U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, of Weston, Florida, is a two-tour veteran set to spend Memorial Day weekend in a Mexican prison for accidentally crossing the border with loaded guns. Tahmooressi said he made a wrong turn while exiting a parking lot in San Ysidro, California on March 31. He was unable to avoid entering Mexico, and immediately tried to turn around as he dialed 911.
Tijuana-based defense attorney, Alejandro Osuna, said Tahmooressi disclosed to the customs agents he had registered weapons in his truck and that he did not intend to enter Mexico. “Andrew said that one of the customs officials offered to escort him back across the border,” Osuna said. “We need to find out what happened at that point.”
Mexican officials had disputed the veteran’s claim, but upon visiting the exact border crossing there is clearly an obvious obstruction to reaching the last-minute turnaround for drivers in the that specific lane, which is not typically the case in larger border crossing areas. Also, there is not even clear indication that the particular left turn will land a traveler in Mexico. The first sign that states “Mexico Only” is barely clear in the daylight, with the “Only” being of shoddy construction that isn’t even illuminated. The sign just after making the left reads “Mexico No USA,” except “No USA” is covered in graffiti, which again, is not even legible in daylight.
Further, a recording released by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) proves the jailed Marine did inadvertently cross the Mexican border. In the recording, viewable below via Greta Van Susteren, Tahmooressi pleads with the dispatcher, who was of no help with no compassion.
“Hi, I’m having a little bit of an emergency here,” Tahmooressi told a dispatcher on the 911 recording. “I am at the border of Mexico right now. My problem is, I crossed the border by accident and have three guns in my truck, and they’re trying to possess, they’re trying to take my guns from me.”
Osuna said he will subpoena the video of the customs station when his client was arrested. But even if a judge hears the evidence tomorrow, the Mexican legal system — if it could even properly be classified as such — does not work in the same way the U.S. justice system works.
“Unlike the U.S. system, where you will have a two or three day trial, in Mexico evidence and hearings are presented piecemeal,” Osuna said. A hearing to listen to the 911 tape is scheduled for June 4. Then, on June 5, a court officer will travel with the lawyers to the same border crossing. But, Tahmooressi’s first court hearing is set for May 28, when he will have to face the two customs agents and two soldiers present at his arrest. He will have the opportunity to make a statement.
“We want him to explain everything that happened the night of his arrest,” Osuna said.
Since his arrest, Tahmooressi has been held in two different Mexican prisons, one of which is notorious for corruption, violence and abuse. According to Osuna, the jailed Marine is facing federal charges for carrying a weapon intended for exclusive use by the military, carrying a weapon not registered in Mexico and possession of ammunition.
But while the judge can dismiss the case at any point, the decision is likely not coming soon enough for the family.
“The judge won’t dismiss the case at this time,” Osuna said. “These are very serious charges in Mexico.”
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have done little to expedite justice in this case. Despite the growing public outrage and media exposure, the judge is not feeling enough pressure to dismiss the case at this time.
“The judge who is hearing the case in Tijuana is oblivious to the American media,” Osuna said.
Mexico has approved new procedures to allow the attorney general to opt out of prosecuting a case, but Mexican officials have been unclear in answering our request to respond to that possibility. Some have said they didn’t even know if the new rules were implemented. What is known is that not even Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has the option to pardon prisoners. A judge and a judge alone will decide Tahmoressi’s fate, according to Mexican law.
This is not the first instance of Mexican officials arresting veterans on trumped up charges. In December 2012, a Mexican federal judge finally ordered the immediate release of Marine Jon Hammar, 27, who also crossed the Mexican border that previous August, though he did so with an antique rifle that was in his vehicle as he was headed to a surfing trip. Like Tahmooressi, Hammar also suffered from severe combat-related PTSD. In fact, Tahmooressi was making his way back from a VA medical center where he was receiving treatment for his condition, a condition he has been struggling to deal with over the past year.
The Mexican court ruled that Hammar had no criminal intent to bring the antique 60-year-old rifle across the border and had his constitutional rights violated. While he was jailed, Hammar’s relatives were hit with a barrage of phone calls attempting to extort them. The calls were from jailed cartel members who rule the prison systems in the corrupt country.
Tahmooressi will unfortunately remain behind bars in a state penitentiary in Tecate, Mexico, which is roughly 40 miles east of Tijuana.