On May 28, 2014, former U.S. marine Andrew Tahmooressi appeared in a Tijuana courtroom where he was to give a statement of evidence in the hearing concerning his entrance into Mexico on March 31, 2014 with three weapons, including an assault rifle, in his pick-up truck.
The twenty-five-year-old has maintained that he missed the last exit back to the USA and entered Mexico by accident along with more than four hundred rounds of ammunition in addition to the three weapons. Some of the guns were reportedly readily available to the driver, loaded, and ready to fire. At Wednesday’s hearing, the Mexican officials’ statements of what occurred on March 31, along with what one would hope is well-documented evidence (including video footage of Tahmooressi’s arrival into Mexico), was to be presented to the presiding judge. However, instead of the hearing, Tahmooressi decided to fire his defense counsel, effectively putting him back to square one until new counsel could be retained.
Reports of what happened leading up to Tahmooressi’s arrest are mixed, and the Marine’s story has also varied since the date of his arrest. Originally, it was reported that this was the first time he had ever been to Mexico. Later, it came to light that he had been to Tijuana on at least six occasions before. Many people have called the marine’s credibility into question, while his mother and U.S. Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Scott Peters claim that regardless of Tahmooressi’s prior visits he did not have mastery of driving around the border area and that it was an honest mistake.
Many people familiar with the border area have a hard time swallowing this excuse. If he really did miss the U-turn to the U.S. exit (which is located in the far left lane) because he was too close to the far right lane, than at least why didn’t he go through the ‘declaration lane’ conveniently located on that very side? Instead, Tahmooressi reportedly crossed through the ‘nothing to declare’ lanes and got a green light. Had he not been waved down by the Mexican border officials he would have ended up in Mexico. Was his plan then to go back to the US and declare his weapons to the US Customs and Border Protection? Good luck with that! Had it not been for an allegedly missing front license plate, suspicious behavior, and an overly-packed pick-up truck, he would not have been waved down by border officials and the story would be quite different.
Congressman Hunter is pushing for this U.S. marine to be released, and is pushing for the White House to threaten to cut off aid to Mexico, thus turning what should be a judicial matter into a political frenzy. This diplomatic strategy has worked for Hunter in the past. In 1999, 23-year-old Brian Johnston, an on-duty transportation unit driver at Camp Pendleton ended up traveling south of the border after missing the exit on his way to pick up two Marines detained by the Navy Shore Patrol at the border. However, this case has important differences as the Marine was on an official assignment to drive to the border, and his story could be easily corroborated. At the time, Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Brian Bilbray were able get Sgt. Johnston freed two weeks after his arrest after threatening to introduce a bill in the house to shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Reports indicate that, even once approached by border officials, Tahmooressi did not declare the weapons and gave officials mixed stories that he was either crossing to visit friends or was coming to get medical treatment. Border officials deny that he indicated he had made a mistake. It is expected that video footage will corroborate official reports, along with whatever evidence has been compiled over the fifty plus days since his arrest.
In the meantime, the U.S. media has done a great job of spinning facts and ramping up the rhetoric. Undoubtedly, much of the media’s point of view has been fueled by his concerned mother, Jill Tahmooressi, but it doesn’t take much investigative work to fact-check before going to press, and it is obvious to most people familiar with this region that the media has not been doing its due diligence.
On May 20, 2014, FoxNews.com came out with probably the most ridiculous of all articles on the subject, titled ‘Worse than Afghanistan’: Mom of Marine held in Mexico says ordeal worse than war”. The article was filled with half-truths and blatant inaccuracies. One quote, from the mother of the marine, said “we have a decorated Marine being held in a Mexican prison for no reason”. Clearly, he is not being held in prison for no reason, he is being held because he entered the country with contraband —the most serious type of contraband from the Mexican perspective — in a country fighting a drug war being fueled by arms mainly of US origin.
The article goes on to state that “he did not even realize he was in Mexico because of the poorly lit area and a small sign covered in graffiti” and that he entered at a “substation border crossing and not the main San Ysidro border crossing. ” However, there is no such thing as a substation border crossing in San Ysidro.
Furthermore, what the article fails to mention is that the Marine had to have driven past at least two miles of signage, signage that includes warnings on guns and ammo, with vibrating rumble bumps, and “last USA exit” warnings. Tahmooressi’s mother goes on to state, “I am appalled we don’t protect our people better on this side of the border so Americans are not subjected to Mexican brutality.” It is not clear what she means by Mexican brutality, because other than the admittedly poor jail conditions Tahmooressi has faced at La Mesa prison, there have been no allegations of mistreatment committed by Mexican officials.
Tahmooressi’s mother claims that her son was recently diagnosed with PTSD, and is suffering from severe directional dysfunction. If that is the case, shouldn’t that lead to questioning as to whether he should be transporting weapons at all, and especially in close proximity to the border. Also, leaving loaded guns inside a pick-up truck, in a parked vehicle, with other items such as a ladder in clear view does not seem like proper and safe storage. One would argue that a former Marine has a higher duty of care to the general population, and that he should have carefully navigated his route, and properly stored his weapons and ammo.
In the same article, his mother states that “If this had happened in the US, no prosecutor would have charged. Clearly”. Clearly, she is incorrect. Just do an internet search of “blind mules” and you will come up with dozens of hits related to completely innocent people who have unknowingly crossed the border with planted drugs in their cars. One such victim, Juan Andrés, spent six months in U.S. jails awaiting trial after being charged with drug possession with the intent to distribute, and got convicted to three years in prison, only avoiding 20 years because he did not have a criminal record. Luckily for him, a Senior District Judge noticed a pattern with similar cases, and dismissed the case on acquittal. Regardless, Andrés had to spend six months in jail amongst criminals, gang members, and uncomfortable jail conditions while the U.S. judicial system sorted this out. Mexico didn’t threaten to break him out of jail, or block off border crossings as has happened in the present case.
Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez Guilbot, head of the Tijuana Customs Department, has stated that the former Marine crossed into Mexico at 10:30 pm on March 31, and categorically stated that he did not declare the guns, and that his frequent changes of story made officials suspicious.
Several weeks after Tahmooressi’s arrest, a 911 tape of a call that he made to his mother was released. What is surprising about the tape is the fact that it was made at approximately 11:30 pm, an hour after he reportedly entered Mexico (not immediately after as many media outlets report). Also, his choice of words seem strange coming from somebody that is reportedly concerned about trying to return to the US. In the tape, Tahmooressi explains that he missed his exit and that the Mexican officials are “trying to take my guns from me.” When the operator affirmed that if he was in Mexico she couldn’t help he said “so, they have the right to just take my guns.” It seemed like his main concern was being left gunless, rather than figuring out a way to get back in to the US.
It is the opinion of most people south of the border that a “decorated marine” should be able to read the multiple signs warning him that he is about to exit his country, and that he should be especially cautious about which road he is taking when so close to the border. If his PTSD was interfering with this and causing disorientation, then he probably should not have been driving around with weapons, certainly not loaded weapons, and certainly not near the border.
Thankfully, it is a judge and not the media that will be deciding in this case.
35 years in the trucking business and living in Mexico for the past 15 years, make me uniquely qualified to offer my insight and opinion into the Mexican trucking industry and other border issues. A contributor to SiriuxXM Road Dog Channel 106 and to the award winning Lockridge Report, Mexico Trucker Online continues to publish the unvarnished truth about the subjects we cover.