OTR Interviews

Mother of Marine jailed in Mexico: 'He's not a criminal ... he made a wrong turn'

On the scene in Mexico, Greta talks to the mother of Andrew Tahmooressi about his daily living conditions as he tries to win his freedom after accidentially crossing the border with registered firearms

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 19, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now, an American Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan is in a Mexican prison, frightened and terrified. And only ON THE RECORD is taking you there. We're investigating, retracing Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi's route, taking you along the identical roads he traveled the night he was arrested at the border.

We are now live at the U.S. Mexican border. And we are just back from two days at the Mexican prison where we were ready to interview the Marine, Andrew Tahmooressi. He wanted to talk with us. His mother and his lawyer wanted him to talk to us. Even prison officials said we could interview the sergeant in the prison. But after we waited outside the prison for two full days, other prison officials decided to keep us out, refusing to let us interview Tahmooressi.

But we are with the Marine's mother and she got into the prison for a family visit to see her son face to face. More on our investigation in just minutes.

But first, our interview with the Marine's mother, Jill Tahmooressi.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Jill, you went inside today?

JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF MARINE SGT. ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: I did. I did, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this the first time you have been to this prison?

TAHMOORESSI: This is the first time. Andrew was in La Mesa where I saw him the first time, April 14th.

VAN SUSTEREN: You have seen him since April 14th?

TAHMOORESSI: No, I haven't.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you get phone calls from him?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. Yes, I do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me what happened. You went up. Take me step-by- step. You went inside the prison? Security check?

TAHMOORESSI: Many security checks. First-time experience. I was strip searched. It was a female officer in a private booth, but I had to completely strip down.

VAN SUSTEREN: I take it the woman was polite to you during the strip search.

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. It was humiliating experience. I wasn't prepared for that but I was willing to do that in order that I could see my son. So it's not ever about me. It's about trying to gain his freedom back. So once I went through all of that, then there was an English-speaking military guard or prison guard who escorted me through. And so then Andrew was in this big open, like a gymnasium, I would call it, but not with gym equipment. So I saw Andrew.

VAN SUSTEREN: Saw him from how far away?

TAHMOORESSI: So it was a huge, like, gymnasium. So he was in the back.

VAN SUSTEREN: Alone or were there others?

TAHMOORESSI: No, no. All by himself with about six or seven guards that I could count.

VAN SUSTEREN: He had six or seven guards?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. So in his proximity were six or seven guards.

VAN SUSTEREN: All the attention on your son?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: No one else was there?

TAHMOORESSI: No one else. A big open gym. And so then they told him he could approach me. And he didn't have any shackles on but, you know, like a mother does, started looking at him from head to toe. I noticed he had red marks on his wrist. And I thought, is that from the shackles? He was shackles in 35 days from La Mesa. I said, is that the shackles from La Mesa? He said, no, no, no. They just took these off. Wherever he was in his private cell they had to shackle him to get him to the open gym to see me. He wasn't shackled when I saw him.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was the first thing you said to him?

TAHMOORESSI: So we hugged, we hugged. He said thanks so much for coming out.

VAN SUSTEREN: How does he pass the day?

TAHMOORESSI: He told me today he sleeps a lot. I mean, it's hard to maintain your positivity and your will, so he is sleeping a lot. But he says he tries to exercise. And the portions are very, very scant. So he is hungry most of the time. He had hoped that I would bring him food. And we did try it bring him food but they wouldn't let us bring any food into the prison. I had the food in my bag but they wouldn't let us bring it in.

VAN SUSTEREN: What were you trying to bring in?

TAHMOORESSI: I was trying to bring in apples, fresh fruit, sandwiches, protein, turkey, to build him up, but I wasn't able to do that. I was able to get him some more -- he only had one pair of pants. There is a bucket in his cell where he is he expected to wash his one pair of pants. So thank God I was able to bring him another pair of pants. So he'll have a pair of pants to change into while he tries to launder his other one. And I was able to bring him two books.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did he say about the way he is kept? He is in a single cell?

TAHMOORESSI: Much improved from La Mesa where he felt he was going to be executed by the general populace because he was in the general populace in La Mesa, and had his life threatened. Now, at least, he is in a private section where -- I didn't see it but he tells me there are 10 cells but they are all empty. He is the only one housed in this section. There is always a guard there. And that there's always a guard there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Outside his cell?

TAHMOORESSI: Outside his cell.

VAN SUSTEREN: He is just sitting outside his cell looking at him.

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the things always of concern when I used to practice law, solitary confinement is a horrible punitive measure. Does he have a sense -- does he have that sort of frustration of being held alone or some -- what are the conditions?

TAHMOORESSI: He has an appreciation for the solitude right now because his life was threatened in La Mesa by prisoners. And so he just needs to stay alive so that he can eventually have freedom. So I think he feels secure with not being around the general populace.

He is not a criminal. He made a mistake, made a wrong turn. He said at the border, I have got guns. I don't want to be here. Let me turn around and go home. He doesn't want to be with criminals. He is not a criminal.

But he does have access in that area to a phone call. So I'm always just so relieved when at least I am able to talk to him almost on a daily basis. He calls collect. And then I talk to him about everything that's being done to build his hope up so that he doesn't feel abandoned and hopeless. He wants to tell the American public, you know, what he is going through and how he is fighting for his freedom, and please don't forget about him because he has been. He feels abandoned. Other than the legislators that are writing letters -- and there are plenty of legislators writing letters on his behalf. But his attorney has not given him any promise of any immediate or even short-term relief.

VAN SUSTEREN: So as you got up to leave, what did you say to your son?

TAHMOORESSI: We always pray and we always put everything back into God's hands to continue to protect Andrew and to protect the officers and the jail that are protecting Andrew. And just pray that, you know, we'll get that miraculous relief soon back to freedom.

Of course, all of America is supporting him. I tell him about the whitehouse.gov petition because that's the only hope I have that the White House will acknowledge that Andrew is in prison, because that is a mechanism. If I get this 100,000 signatures, it requires the White House to respond. Even if it's just we know Andrew is in prison, just be able to tell him that his commander-in-chief -- and he is still a Marine. He is an inactive Reservist until 2016. His commander-in chief is President Obama. I haven't heard from President Obama. But, America, if you could sign that Whitehouse.gov petition, I will get a response from the White House about Andrew's fight for freedom.

VAN SUSTEREN: As I listen to you talk, I think, what if he didn't have a mother? What if he didn't have a mother determined to come here and pound the pavement and make phone calls to everybody? I mean, you wonder what would happen to most Americans.

TAHMOORESSI: I can't even imagine. It's so tragic. I could only think they would literally be buried in this system for 21 to 30 years because it's a foreign country. It's a foreign prison. It's a foreign legal system. We still don't understand our rights and legal representation. What is still being asked of him by his legal representative? We don't agree with. It's not what we would do in America. Is he so frightened because -- I chose a Mexican lawyer that I thought would be best for him, one that there wasn't a language barrier. But there is so much difference.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the story with the different statements that he has made are there some inconsistencies?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened?

TAHMOORESSI: He was directed on what to say. Not the part about getting lost and making a wrong turn.

VAN SUSTEREN: He was directed what to say, what do you mean?

TAHMOORESSI: He got lost, made a wrong turn and ended up in Mexico. Telling everybody that he had three guns. That's in his statement. But what the attorney directed him to say was, Andrew, you don't know this system here. You have got to trust me. We have got to make this simple and short. You're going to say you just got here as if it sounded like you got here yesterday and that you've been to Mexico before.

VAN SUSTEREN: He said to the court reporter that he had been to Mexico for the first time.

TAHMOORESSI: That he has never been to Mexico.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he correct that at some point.

TAHMOORESSI: Now he did. He has asked the lawyer to please correct it because, when I got the phone call, Greta, I got the phone call after he disclosed that false statement, and he said, Mom, what lawyer did you get for me because he just made me lie? I said, what do you mean he made you lie? He told me I had to say that I had just gotten here and I have never been to Mexico and that's what I have to say, and I said, well, I'm going to call him right now. So I did him up and I said what do you mean you told my son to lie? It's the whole truth, nothing but the truth so help you God. My son has nothing that would incriminate him.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did your lawyer say when you said that.

TAHMOORESSI: He told me, Jill, you've got to understand this is not America. We don't practice common law. We practice civil law.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: But what did that have to do with the false statement --

(CROSSTALK)

TAHMOORESSI: Everything is going to be about oral arguments. And the prosecutors aren't going to trace back any records because he said to -- I said to the attorney on the phone, and I emailed him, and I said, it's a lie, I said I'm pulling up his bank account right now. I can see -- I can see one time that he was in Tijuana. I said certainly the prosecutors are going to get that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. One of the suspicions quite naturally would be whether or not he was trying to sell the guns in Mexico or whether or not he was running drugs or something. Do you know his financial situation?

TAHMOORESSI: Absolutely. When he got out of Marine Corps in November of 2012, active duty, he had more money than I did. He had $100,000 between a savings and his checking account. But Andrew would not sell his weapons for any price because that was his self-defense. That's like a carpenter that carries a hammer and a plumber that carries a Rotor Rooter. A Marine who served four years, two tours in the combat duty in the Helmand Province as a 50 caliber gunner, biggest gun on the battlefield.

He carried his gun for a purpose. And that's because it was self-defense, he carried his guns for a purpose. That's because it was self defense. It was U.S. legal purchased. Second Amendment right to carry firearms. He needed those firearms for his own sense of security. He never, not for any price, would he have sold those guns. He does not have the profiler of someone who needs to sell their weapons.

VAN SUSTEREN: There is natural love their sons will believe -- we'll always believe the best.

TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any suspicion at all that he is involved in any sort of drug running or -- I mean, just like step out a little bit. Is there anything he could have been doing? He hasn't been arrested for any drug charges but this is a drug, you know, corridor.

TAHMOORESSI: Absolutely, clean whistle. Except for the fact that I started noticing him drinking vodka, which isn't his typical -- he never had been a drinker. I do know that he wasn't reliant on that substance, on alcohol.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was he ever arrested before?

TAHMOORESSI: Never. Never, never.

VAN SUSTEREN: No conviction?

TAHMOORESSI: Never. Never, never, never. Never. Never.

Meritoriously promoted on the battlefield just two years ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: In Afghanistan?

TAHMOORESSI: In Afghanistan. And that is a very rare accomplishment.

VAN SUSTEREN: When he was in Afghanistan and developed PTSD, his car hit an IED?

TAHMOORESSI: I believe one of many. One of many very violent situations was that the MRAP that got blown up in the IED. He was the driver and got the most impact. They all walked away. It was the driver's side that was the worse. They all walked away. He also has a huge scar in the back of his head where he fell off of an MRAP, actually hit his head going back next to one. Hit his head on the way down on another MRAP and was out cold. So my husband always said, Andrew, you need a brain scan. We think you have traumatic brain injury. Maybe that explains why you are agitated and anxious. You think you are under some kind of surveillance. You've got this hyper-vigilance for self-defense. You are starting to drink. Let's go get a brain scan. But he was finally getting help March 12th at the V.A.

VAN SUSTEREN: Had he ever sort of waived -- since the time he came back from Afghanistan, did he ever use his guns in a threatening way?

TAHMOORESSI: Once in May -- I want to say it was May 2013. There were no charges. In the family home, he always carried his concealed weapon. It was always in the back of his pants or in his pocket. My daughter's boyfriend at the time, they got into an altercation. I don't know what it was about. But there was very -- he felt very threatened. He actually pulled his 45, but it wasn't loaded for self-defense. He literally felt like he was going to -- I know this gentleman had a knife. I don't know if it was in view or not. So anyway, yes, he did pull in his home his 45. And so, of course, the police came. I have that documented record. It's called incident record because there were no charges. Yes, he did. When he felt his life was threatened that may 2013, he did pull out his 45 but the incident documents that it wasn't loaded.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

==========================================

VAN SUSTEREN: A U.S. Marine's plea for help is desperate call to 911. Here is part of Andrew Tahmooressi's 911 call from the border.

(BEGIN SOUND CLIP)

ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: I'm at the border of Mexico right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you?

ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: And my problem is, I crossed the border by accident. And I have three guns in my truck. And they are trying to possess -- they are trying to take my guns from me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you're in Mexico?

ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is nothing I can't help you with then, sir. I do apologize. You're not on the soil anymore. I can't really help you.

(END SOUND CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: And the Marine's mother, Jill Tahmooressi, telling us about the weeks leading up to her son's arrest and the terrifying minutes leading up to that 911 call.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: A year ago, about May or June of 2013, he moved back home and that you noticed problems that he was essentially -- that he was hyper sensitive about security.

JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- And so, that's why he had the guns?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, it's fair to say that he was troubled?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes he was troubled.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is why he then went out to San Diego to go to the V.A.?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And at the V.A. getting help about two weeks before he.

(CROSSTALK)

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: March 12th.

VAN SUSTEREN: March 12th, he goes to the V.A. in San Diego. They do a report.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: They document the fact that the IED, the PTSD.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And they begin, I suppose, develop some sort of program to have.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes a treatment plan. Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, meanwhile, he goes back, sort of, living his normal life and that's when on March 31st, he drives to the border area.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Parks his car on the U.S. side, goes into Tijuana for a time. And then, when he goes out, he gets back in his car, guns in the trunk, leaves the parking lot. And when he leaves the parking lot he makes the wrong turn instead of going towards San Diego, he made a left turn in which curiously if you go left you would think you would go north of San Diego, but as it turns out, you go left, and you end up looping around in a no exit lane into Mexico.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: That's right. And that last left mistake, which is, again, only 50 feet from the parking lot. That's the sign that has graffiti on it as well. There is a sign there, but at 11:30 at night, I'm not sure if I would be able to see it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, as he enters Mexico, he gets stopped at the Mexican check point.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And does he volunteer to them, I have three guns in the trunk?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: I don't want to be here. This is a mistake. It's an accident. I don't mean to be here. Will you let me turn around? I want to go back to the border.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I have three guns.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: And I have three guns. I want to go back to the border. Absolutely declared it open and honestly.

VAN SUSTEREN: At what point does he make the 911 call, within -- while he is still at the check point?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: He told me that he was hopeful at that one point in time before the 911 call, because it was only the customs agent. And it seems like the customs agents were being quite accommodating like, OK. And he actually thought that they were flagging over some kind of an escort car that would help a lost motorist in that situation. Get turned around because it would be illegal to turn around, you would be going opposite but he thought that he was getting help, an escort to get back to the border. But then within minutes he realized that there was a whole lot of conversation going on, and now, another group of not customs agents but military have come. He said 20 with guns. And that's when he dialed 911 because now he is affronted by military with guns. He knows he has got guns. He has already told the customs agents that he has got guns and he wants to get back to America. So, he dials 911 to say, I've got an emergency here. And we all know now what he said on the 911, but it's clearly, I accidentally entered Mexico. But at one point is he almost hopeful that he is not yet in Mexico. He's hoping that he is still on American soil.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who actually open the trunk?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Now, you have to picture a ford f-150. It's not a trunk, it's a truck.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: So, you have got the big, you know, bench seat and he has got the whole bench seat in the back. It fits six. So, in his backseat is piles of hefty bags of clothes that he literally packed. He packed in hefty bags and a few suitcases that he does own, when he left at Christmas time to head to the family cabin in Tennessee. So -- and all that stuff has always been in his truck.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, where are the guns at this point? Are they on the back seat or.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: In a suitcase.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the suitcase in the far back, or in the back?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Well, there is only one backseat. You only have one back seat.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, is there an area behind that backseat?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Oh, no, no, no. It's only one backseat.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it's on the backseat in a suitcase.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: In a suitcase on top of hefty bags full of clothes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And he told.

(CROSSTALK)

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: At the 45, is where I would have thought it would be because it's always in the pocket of his car.

VAN SUSTEREN: Loaded?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: I don't know. I don't know. All I know are the three guns. I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And is there any suggestion, as far as you know, that he was in any way reaching for a threatening or doing anything with those guns?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: That he notified the Mexican -- our attention is focused on the fact that every U.S. Marine in this prison?

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, you know, sort of the side story of this, is that, you know, there is so much attention now on what we are doing for our vets, when they return.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I guess what, you know, caught my attention to the fact that here is a young man who has returned. He has had several incidents in Afghanistan, IED, blowing up his military vehicle or the front of it. Obviously having trouble. And then going to a V.A. hospital to try to help trouble and then two weeks later we have this situation.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: It's tragic. It's tragic. And this situation clearly, I mean, it was a mistake, an accidental turn. I mean, an innocent wrong turn. But, we're from Florida. That's not a border state. We don't have that sensitivity about the hazards of being so close to a border to be quite frank. And in Florida we don't always hear a lot of news about Mexico. So, if you think about a Floridian, who is really just relatively new to San Diego, you don't really understand the hazards of being so close to a foreign country, where the guns aren't allowed and you have a legal system is different. So, it was an innocent mistake.

VAN SUSTEREN: I actually -- the bigger issue because I have driven this. The bigger issue is. I have actually now driven where your son was, that left turn, I'm not so sure I wouldn't have made that same left turn because those signs -- especially at night when it's dark, I might not have noticed those two signs, but it made more sense to turn left to go north to San Diego. I would have thought that was the direction towards San Diego not knowing it would loop around to a street that you were then forced into Mexico.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, that would just be -- I would not think that was the direction of Mexico.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: You have to -- but anyway, that's just me. Jill, thank you.

MRS. TAHMOORESSI: Thank you, Greta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)