TIJUANA, Mexico — Instead of getting treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, a U.S. Marine is now confined to a Mexican jail cell, his body sometimes tied to a bed by all four limbs, a close friend said.
Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has been in jail for almost two months, accused of entering Mexico illegally with three weapons. His family insists that he legally owned the firearms and crossed the border accidentally.
It is illegal to bring guns into Mexico.
Although several U.S. lawmakers and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have weighed in on the case, the fate of the Afghanistan war veteran remains in limbo.
“His PTSD started from combat. Now, he’s got a whole other load of PTSD that he is going to get when he gets out of jail,” said Sam Vranicar, a close friend who served with Tahmooressi in Afghanistan during a 2010 tour.
Tahmooressi, 25, has been able to speak with his friend when he calls Vranicar’s house collect from the Mexican jail. The two have talked about 10 times, Vranicar said.
Vranicar said he’s astonished that a Marine — or anyone — could be treated the way his friend describes.
“Being tied to a bed in four-point restraints and joint manipulation restraints — like ways that a POW would be treated … it’s just ridiculous,” Vranicar said.
“I don’t think it’s right for any American to be in a Mexican jail treated like that. They are our neighboring ally, and it’s inhumane.”
‘A different guy’
Vranicar urged Tahmooressi to move from Florida to San Diego so that he could help him seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As soon as he got out here, I realized that the Andrew that I used to know has gone,” Vranicar said. “He became a different guy.”
Vranicar and his wife noticed his friend was acting distant.
“I took him to La Jolla, he got diagnosed, and he started seeing people on a regular basis,” Vranicar said.
Not long afterward, he said, Tahmooressi made a wrong turn at an exit close to the Mexican border.
He had all his belongings, including his guns, with him, Vranicar said.
“It wasn’t just his guns that he crossed with,” he said. “It was everything he had. All his worldly possessions.”
It’s unclear exactly when Tahmooressi will see a courtroom again.
On Wednesday, a judge started and then quickly suspended a hearing after Tahmooressi fired his attorneys, a Mexican judicial source said.
The source said Tahmooressi’s next court hearing will be June 4.
But the Marine’s mother, Jill Tahmooressi, said the next hearing is still weeks away, as it will take time for the new attorney to be briefed.
The case has drawn attention from U.S. lawmakers and Kerry, who said Wednesday that he spoke with Mexican authorities about it last week.
“We are working on determining whether or not certain evidence that has been presented is meeting the standard that’s necessary to be able to hold that young Marine, and we’re trying to find out exactly what the fact pattern is, but we are working on that,” he said.
911 call: ‘I crossed the border by accident’“I’m at the border of Mexico right now. And my problem is, I, I crossed the border by accident, and I have three guns in my truck, and they’re trying to take my guns from me,” the Marine told a 911 dispatcher in March.
In a recording of the call released by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, Tahmooressi appears unsure of whether he crossed the border and exasperated that Mexican authorities are trying to take his weapons.
“There’s nothing I can help you with then, sir,” the 911 dispatcher says after learning he’s in Mexico. “I do apologize. You’re not on American soil anymore.”
Tahmooressi asks whether authorities have a right to take his guns.
The dispatcher tells him he should have seen large warning signs on the freeway saying it’s illegal to enter Mexico with guns.
“There are warning signs that do say that as you’re driving down the freeway, before you enter Mexico,” she says.
“Yeah, I was hoping there would be a turnaround point,” he says, “but there never was.”
Tahmooressi’s mother said he accidentally crossed into Mexico with three personal firearms, all bought legally in the United States.
He had intended to drive to meet friends in San Ysidro, California, on March 31, before he was arrested.
Letter to lawmakers
The Marine has tried to appeal to U.S. lawmakers.
“I accidentally drove into Mexico with 3 guns … a rifle (AR-15), a .45 cal pistol and a 12 gauge pump shotgun with no intensions (sic) on being in Mexico or being involved in any criminal activities,” Tahmooressi wrote in a statement of innocence to Hunter, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
“I have rights to all 3 weapons,” he wrote. “They are under my name. … Please help me.”
Hunter is among several lawmakers who have petitioned for Tahmooressi’s release.
“Mexico’s Attorney General is in a position to deal with Andrew’s case and ensure its quick resolution,” Hunter said in a statement this month. “It is necessary that the AG intervene and expedite proceedings at the very least. And so far there’s been no validation from Mexico that Andrew didn’t make a directional mistake at the border.”