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New Video: 15 Marines arrested in formation for human smuggling ring

15 Marines arrested at Camp Pendleton for human smuggling. (The San Diego Union-Tribune/YouTube)
November 08, 2019

A newly released video shows the arrest of 15 Camp Pendleton Marines arrested in connection to alleged smuggling efforts to assist illegal immigrants crossing the border.

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On July 25, 800 Marines were in formation at the Camp San Mateo Marine Corps base at the time of the arrest, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. In front of that crowd of fellow Marines, the battalion Sergeant Major ordered the 15 Marines to come forward “to be recognized.”

Sgt. Major Matthew A. Dorsey was carrying a red folder commonly associated with the reading of service commendations and awards for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Those Marines assembled for “recognition” may have been shocked to instead hear Dorsey say “NCIS, arrest these Marines.”

Some 40 NCIS agents and other military law enforcement officials carried out the arrest in full view of the hundreds of other assembled Marines. Those law enforcement officers handcuffed and searched the 15 Marines before parading them past their assembled peers.

A total of 13 Marines were charged with human smuggling and conspiracy, while eight more were taken away for questioning as suspects on unspecified drug activity, but were not charged.

The arrests reportedly followed the July 3 arrest of two other Marines that border patrol officers allegedly caught picking up illegal immigrants. Those prior arrests led the actions against the other Marines on July 25.

The public display of military law enforcement became a national news story, but now lawyers for the arrested Marines are arguing that the spectacle also compromised the potential jury pool for those Marines.

Attorney Bethany Payton-O’Brien called the arrests an “unlawful command influence” and a form of illegal punishment before a trial has been completed.

Her client, a Marine corporal, said he heard either Sgt. Major Dorsey or Lt. Col. Eric M. Olson tell the assembled Marines that the arrests are “what happens when you break the law.”

“The government’s actions in this battalion formation arrest and their post-arrest comments to the battalion are wholly unacceptable and inappropriate,” Payton-O’Brien said.

Jeremiah Sullivan, another civilian attorney representing one of the Marines, called the arrests a “circus.”

“The message they are sending is unlawful command influence,” Sullivan said. “This was completely unnecessary and all for show.”

Unlawful command influence is a complaint that is unique to military legal proceedings. The complaint argues the potential that a commanding or superior officer’s authority could unfairly influence the outcome of the case and thus taint the process of a fair trial.

A spokesman for the 1st Marine Division, 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, told Union-Tribune reporters the filming of the arrest was not a decision by the division commander, but rather the choice of Marine public relations officials in the division.

Edinburgh told the Orange County Register reporters the arrests were meant to be an “eye-opening thing” for the assembled Marines.

“It had a shock and awe factor. The command wanted to send a message to make clear this type of behavior is not tolerated,” Edinburgh said.

Based on those comments by Edinburgh and other division officials who said the public arrests were intentional, Payton-O’Brien has argued the arrest was itself meant to be a form of punishment to the Marines.

Edinburgh has not offered further comment as to Payton-O’Brien’s motion.