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Video shows July mass arrest of Marines accused of human smuggling at Camp Pendleton

Andrew Dyer, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The July mass arrest of 15 Camp Pendleton Marines in front of their 800-person battalion may have violated their rights and threatens to upend the case, attorneys for two of the accused told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

On the morning of July 25, as 800 Marines stood in formation at the Camp San Mateo area of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 24 Marines' names were called.

Fifteen were ordered to stand in a line in front of the battalion "to be recognized," according to court filings in the case. The battalion sergeant major stood nearby, carrying a red folder that usually is associated with awards.

But these men weren't awarded. The regiment sergeant major, Sgt. Major Matthew A. Dorsey pointed to the Marines in front and said, "NCIS, arrest these Marines."

About 40 or so Naval Criminal Investigative Service and other military law agents swarmed toward the line of men, coming from behind and the sides. They handcuffed and searched the men before parading them, one-by-one, in front of their peers.

In total, 13 Marines were charged with human smuggling and conspiracy, and eight more were taken away for questioning. Those eight, who were said at the time to be suspects in an unspecified drug activity, were escorted off but not charged.


The arrests became national news.

The Marine Corps filmed the whole thing.

That video and the public way the arrests were handled are why two attorneys, each representing one of the Marines, are publicly criticizing the arrests. One of the attorneys filed a defense motion Friday saying the public arrests tainted the jury pool in any potential trial.

Bethany Payton-O'Brien, the attorney, wrote that the public nature of the arrests and the decision to film them amount to "unlawful command influence" and illegal pretrial punishment. Unlawful command influence is when military commanders use their authority to influence the outcome of a case.


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