The arrests of 16 Marines at Camp Pendleton in July were ruled unlawful and a violation of the rights of the Marines involved by a Marine Corps judge Friday.
On July 25, the Marines were arrested and accused of human smuggling in front of their 800-person unit — 1st Battalion, 5th Marines — while the battalion was in formation, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Thirteen were later formally charged.
In July, retired Marine Lt. Col. Gary Barthel said the mass arrest was vital to show that the Marines will not allow criminal behavior, adding that it was “kind of black eye for the Marine Corps,” KFMB-TV reported.
Bethany Payton-O’Brien, the military defense attorney for one Marine, claimed the public arrests were “unlawful command influence.”
“The command’s action in this case is despicable — they need to be held accountable. The two men standing in front of the battalion (during the mass arrest) need to be held accountable,” she said according to Task and Purpose.
“The public humiliation of my client and others in the case was wrong. It was illegal and the Marine Corp’s attempt to try to influence the outcome of this case and poison the jury pool,” Payton-O’Brien said.
“It sends a signal to the government, I’m not going to tolerate, and we should not tolerate, a command basically imposing the verdict before the court is ever held,” she said.
On the same day in July, eight other Marines were also removed from the formation and questioned about their involvement with drug crimes.
Lt. Col. Eric Olson, the battalion commanding officer, testified that after the accused were taken away, he spoke to the Marine unit about the impact of misconduct on the battalion’s “lethality.”
Olson, battalion Sgt. Maj. Matthew Dorsey, and lead NCIS agent on the case, Katelyn Thompson, said the arrests were done when the unit was in formation for safety reasons because some of those being arrested were suspected of weapons offenses.
Marine Col. Stephen Keane, the judge, turned away that argument, saying having 800 Marines witnessing the arrests was not designed to maximize safety.
Keane also addressed the specific case of Lance Cpl. Jose Garcia, one of those charged with drug offenses.
Keane said prosecutors have a week to address the unlawful command influence in the case.
“You have an uphill battle here,” Keane said. “The overarching concern of mine is that Garcia has a fair trial. If not, that leaves the court with one option.”
A human smuggling investigation began in July when two Marines were arrested and charged with trying to smuggle three people across the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Stars and Stripes. Countless other instances of illegal activity were allegedly discovered and appear on the charge sheets of the Marines.
Those charges were later transferred from a federal court in San Diego to the military system, according to the San Diego-Union Tribune.
It remains unclear if Keane’s Friday decision will have an impact on the crimes the Marines are charged with.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.