OTR Interviews

Exclusive: A hopeful jailed US Marine recalls night of wrong turn, arrest in Mexico, says he has been beaten, chained to a bed and feared for his life

Exclusive: Andrew Tahmooressi recalls the night of his wrong turn into Mexico with registered weapons and his arrest, saying a military officer did not seem to care about his side of the story #MarineHeldinMexico

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 29, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Our interview with the U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico only right here ON THE RECORD.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. ANDREW TAHMOORESSI, U.S. MARINE HELD IN MEXICO PRISON: I made one turn out of the parking lot but it looped around and took me back south of Mexico.

The Mexican checkpoint, I told them, I said I have all my stuff back here plus I have three guns. I told them, I said, hey, take everything you want, please let me go back to America.

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I was punched in the stomach a few times to the point where I couldn't breathe. I was gasping for air. I was struck in the face a bunch of times with an open palm.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who was hitting you?

TAHMOORESSI: It was done by guards.

I didn't mean to be in Mexico. It was an accident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi calls it an accident, a big accident. So how did a wrong turn at the border land him in a Mexican prison? The Marine tells us exactly what happened on that fateful night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Take me back to March 31st. And let's start. What time did you arrive in the Tijuana area?

TAHMOORESSI: March 31st, I arrived sometime in the early afternoon. Probably, maybe around noon or 1:00.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what did you do? What was the plan for the day and what did you do?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, I crossed over the border and I seen this big arch there. So I said, well, there's probably some -- something to do where this big arch is. It looks like the -- you know, the arch in St. Louis, Missouri? And I went around, walked around, looked at the shops. I checked in a hotel over there because I was thinking to stay the night. And I ate at a restaurant. I walked around little more and kind of explored a little bit. And I checked out of the hotel because that hotel wasn't very nice. It was dark and gloomy and dirty. So I was like, oh, forget this. And I didn't really like what I seen in Tijuana that much anyway with all the authorities and things. I didn't feel very safe or comfortable there. So I decided to head back to the United States.

And I got in my truck and around maybe like 10:00 at night, made a wrong turn that took me into Mexico.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, and I have been down there. I've saw where you walk across the border and returned. When you came back at 10:00 at night, I take it, it was dark, am I right? It's 10:00 at night?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you ever parked in that parking lot before?

TAHMOORESSI: Yeah, I parked one time in the parking lot before but it was late at night. I was with a friend, and he was driving, and when we were coming back, I had been drinking, so I wasn't -- I didn't have all my senses there.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you pulled out of the parking lot and you crossed one lane of traffic until you turned left on the road and then you turned left again right away, is that right?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. I made one left-hand turn out of the parking lot across the lane of traffic and made another left into -- on to that on-ramp that that I thought went north to San Diego but it looped around and took me south of Mexico.

VAN SUSTEREN: Am I correct that that ramp was to your left as you noted, and San Diego was likewise to your left?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. That's correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so then you swoop around, down beneath the ramp, and then you are at the Mexican checkpoint, is that right?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Had you ever driven that before?

TAHMOORESSI: No. I had never driven that part onto the on-ramp. I had driven the straight part that goes into Mexico. But I had never driven on that on-ramp before.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened when you approached the Mexican check point?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, OK, I get to the Mexican check point where there is a gate. I get a green light but I waved to the lady two lanes sitting to my left who is an officer, and I waved to her to tell her, hey, I don't want to be in Mexico. But she waived to me like come on, let's go, let's go. I was like, OK, I will go. Then there was three officers standing by an inspection table to waive me in. So I go ahead and I drive. I'm just obeying orders at this point. And I park my truck and I get out, and they ask me, what is all this stuff you have back here? Because I had all my possessions in my truck, minus my motorcycle that I left at my friend's house in Ocean Beach. I said, you will I have all my stuff back here, plus I have three guns. But I didn't mean to be in Mexico, it was an accident and there was no place to do a U-turn. He says, OK, show me where the guns are. So we walk around the back of the truck and I point to the door. I said I have two guns in here and one is in the front seat. I point them out. He sees the guns. He puts them back inside the truck, just the two in the rear. And he tells me that he is going to get an escort vehicle for me to take me back to the American border. So I'm like, OK, that will be good. Thank you. Then the Mexican border police officer then drives my truck into a different parking area and I walk to my truck. And then they take all my guns out and put them on the tailgate of my truck with all the ammunition that I pointed out and put them in the back of my truck. And then they get on a walkie-talkie and tell the word up through their higher, and an officer, a military officer comes with two bars on -- two silver bars on the collar. He comes and then he took charge from there. Didn't really seem to care about the story at all but just found me guilty from the beginning of a crime. They didn't have a translator there either. They had a woman who barely spoke English translating. They were threatening to take my guns, take my truck and take all my possessions. I told them I said, hey, take everything you want, just please let me go back to America. They put me under arrest and that was pretty much it.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was your behavior like? Were you respectful or did you get angry with them? What was your demeanor?

TAHMOORESSI: In the beginning, I was respectful. I was tired. I was annoyed. I got annoyed a little bit. I did not like his demeanor, you know, very much. I was frustrated a little bit, annoyed and tired, a little bit cranky, you could say. I was respectful the whole time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you mouth off to them at all?

TAHMOORESSI: Oh, no, no. I never mouthed of at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: At what point did you make the 911 call? Was that before the military officer arrived or after?

TAHMOORESSI: That was after the military officer arrived.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then, was he there when you made the phone call?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, he was. They were trying to get me off the cell phone but I wouldn't allow it. I felt like I was in danger. I didn't like -- I didn't -- the people -- it didn't seem very good. The demeanor of the people and the -- I guess you could say like the energy there, they were giving off, their demeanor was very fishy to me. So I didn't feel very safe --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you ever intend to drive into Mexico?

TAHMOORESSI: Of course, I never intended to drive in Mexico. Not that night, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did anyone speak English with you besides the broken English? Did anyone assist you in communicating with the border?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. There was the first police officer that asked me what I had in my truck at the inspection table. He spoke pretty decent English. He was the one who told me they were going to get an escort vehicle to take me back to the border to the American border.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what do you think happened between the offer to get the escort vehicle and the military officer showing up?

TAHMOORESSI: Basically, I think what happened was he got on the walkie-talkie and was communicating what was going on. I think what he said was, hey, we have got a guy down here with three guns and then came with the military officer, marching, and like he was a man on a mission to get the job done. And then he just took control from there, the military officer. And he didn't seem to care at all about anything of what I had to say, my story, at all. It was like a math equation in his head: three guns, man, equals prison, you know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are those three guns -- what kind are they? And where did you get them?

TAHMOORESSI: I bought one when I was 18 years old. Before I made a trip to Alaska, I wanted to have a shotgun in case of -- for protection for wildlife or whatever. It was -- it's a 12 gauge Vanelli (ph) pump shotgun. Have a -- Vanelli Nova (ph), I believe it's called. Then I bought my rifle in Wilmington when I was visiting my girlfriend who was living in Wilmington at the time. I bought that one maybe six months after I got out of the Marine Corps. And that one was -- I believe, it's like an M6 -- it's like an assault rifle. Kind of like -- yeah, M2, M6 or something like that. Then I bought -- I bought the .45 caliber pistol when I was living in Daytona. I traded in a .9-millimeter pistol. Kimbersolo carry for that one. And I paid an extra $250 to get this .45 caliber 1911.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Were you lawfully in possession of those guns in the United States?

TAHMOORESSI: Was I -- sorry, what?

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you have a license? Did you have all the right paperwork or anything you needed so that you were lawfully able to carry those weapons?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I was lawfully able to.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

TAHMOORESSI: Although I didn't -- at the time, I didn't know where my paperwork was in the truck at the time. I wasn't even sure if it was in the truck. And I was a little too nervous to go looking for it with all the military officials with rifles starring at me.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have actually seen the paperwork, the receipts for the guns. I was just trying to figure out what you remembered. Now, after -- at some point, did they handcuff you at the border?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, they did.

VAN SUSTEREN: So tell me, tell me what happened from the point you were handcuffed? What did they do with you?

TAHMOORESSI: They told me I was going to have to go to prison, and took me in this holding building where I sat for a couple hours or so. Then they handcuffed me. They told me first that I was going to have to go see a doctor. They handcuffed me behind my back and put me in a police truck and drove me about five to 10 minutes to go see a doctor to get me checked out. I had to sign some paperwork and then they took me back to the holding building back at the border. And then they uncuffed me and sat me down and made me wait for a little bit longer. And then made me sign some more paperwork and made me wait a little longer.

(CROSSTALK)

TAHMOORESSI: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then did you go see some prosecutor or something or some judge?

TAHMOORESSI: No. They took me -- after that -- it was around 6:30 in the morning when they took me to a prison and they put me in a cell and I was there for maybe two or three days until I had lawyers picked out and until the legal process started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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VAN SUSTEREN: You only see it here. A U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico for two months. And now, a delay in his fight for freedom. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi taking us inside his legal battle only here ON THE RECORD.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAHMOORESSI: It was busy. It was good. I got to go on a couple car rides so that was nice. And court went well. Nothing really got accomplished because my new lawyer, who I was just assigned yesterday, wasn't there with me. He wanted to postpone the date to get the file all in order. And so I met the judge and that was pretty much about it. They said they are going to get back with me when they schedule the next court date.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any sense of certainty? Are you just sort of sitting there every day passing the day, wondering what's going to happen?

TAHMOORESSI: Some days yes. And other days I try not to think about it too much but just try to relax and know that it's all going to be taken care of?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so now you are in this new prison. You've got no lawyer right now. You are in-between lawyers. You got a public defender defending you. Have you given any consideration to how long you might be there?

TAHMOORESSI: I thought about it. I hope that it's not going to be much longer. The people that I talk to, like the prison guards, they believe that it's not going to be much longer.

VAN SUSTEREN: Like what's not much longer for you?

TAHMOORESSI: I'm hoping a month I will be out of here. That will be great. Within a month, that will be fantastic.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you don't get out within a month, can you take another month beyond that?

TAHMOORESSI: Oh, sure. Yeah, sure, sure. I mean, I'm not going to want to. And it's not going to -- it's going to be sad and lonely and -- but, yes, I could take another -- I could take more time beyond that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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VAN SUSTEREN: It's the interview you will only see right here. Handcuffed to a bed and punched until he could not breathe, the U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico goes "On the Record" about the terrible conditions he endured in a Mexican prison.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: I spoke to Mark Podlaski. You know who he is, right?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes. He is a very good friend of mine.

VAN SUSTEREN: Very good friend of yours. Now, he told me that things were really tough for you in prison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK PODLASKI, FRIEND: He had PTSD before. He is going to have a whole new case of PTSD after being stripped naked and chained to a bed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAHMOORESSI: When I first got there, they put me in a cell with maybe like 15 other people, and that they were threatening me, and -- like threatening to -- indirectly threatening me to kill me and rape me and -- I told them that I was very fearful and that I felt -- you know, I was very alone. I felt like it was all these dudes against me. And that I was so afraid that I couldn't even like, my heart was pounding so hard that I couldn't even get a word out. If I had to yell for help, I couldn't get anything out of me.

And that when around 8:00 came around that p.m., it was time to go make phone calls. And I went outside to make a phone call, and I called my mom, and my mom prayed for me over the phone. I asked her to pray for me. And that gave me strength to try to escape, because I thought that if I had went back into that cell that night, that I would something -- I was going to get raped and killed. And I didn't believe that telling the officers was going to help me at all, because I had to ask for help previously to make a phone call to the American consulate, you know, I was kind of begging them, and they seemed to not really care and just say, be quiet. You know, so I didn't think that anything, any help was going to come, and I thought that was my only way out, so I decided to try to run away. Because I knew if I ran away and if I didn't get -- you know, if I didn't get away from the prison, that they would take me and put me in a cell by myself where I could be safe, where I could feel safer.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you were there, were you chained at any point to a bed or anything? I hear these stories about people in foreign prisons, I even heard that there was a point where you were chained to a prison -- to a bed. Did that ever happen?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. That happened a few times. After -- the night that I escaped, when they got me on their custody, they stripped me of my clothes and then they handcuffed me, my hands to a bedpost and my feet to a bedpost. So I was kind of stuck there standing overnight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Standing overnight or lying down?

TAHMOORESSI: Yeah, yeah, I was stuck there standing overnight. But then I managed to get on my knees. I went from standing to on my knees, and then I went from on my knees to kind of laying on my side in an uncomfortable position. And then I went from standing again to sitting. I managed to work my way to sitting on the bed with one of my arms underneath my legs, underneath my leg, and then on to the bed post. And then I managed to fall asleep with my head on my knee for a little bit.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why did they think that was necessary to chain you to that? Do you know? Was it to be punitive or was it because they thought it was for your own safety or that you wouldn't run away? Why do you think they did that?

TAHMOORESSI: I think it was for discipline. For punishment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think that? Tell me more.

TAHMOORESSI: Because well, after I tried to, after they got ahold of me, once I tried to escape, they were not treating me so nicely, you know, physically. And then from there, they were -- I was handled roughly. And I was called bad names, and -- and then they chained -- well, not chained me up, but they put the handcuffs on me, nice and tight, and put -- handcuffed me to the bed. Naked in the cold.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were you ever struck or hit in any way?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. Yes, I was.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me.

TAHMOORESSI: I was hit multiple times. I was punched in the stomach a few times. To the point where I couldn't breathe. I was gasping for air. I was struck in the face a bunch of times with open palms, slaps. My jaw, I got slapped on one side of my jaw maybe like 10 times in a row, and my jaw kind of -- it fell out of place -- not out of place, but it moved in a way where something didn't feel right. I was slapped in the forehead a lot. My feet were -- I was forced to be on my knees with my face pushed up against the fence, hard up against the fence. My feet were stepped on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was this done -- this was done by guards or by other residents? Who was the one -- who was hitting you?

TAHMOORESSI: It was done by guards, yes. Prison guards.

VAN SUSTEREN: And when you say they called you names, like what?

TAHMOORESSI: Puta madre was the one that they used over and over again.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what does that mean, do you know?

TAHMOORESSI: I think it means -- I'm not really sure, but I think it means son of a bitch is what I think.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you ever see the warden in that first prison or anybody who is sort of higher up than the guards you were dealing with who made any effort to stop any of this?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I've seen them.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what happened then?

TAHMOORESSI: They weren't -- the ones who were in charge, I don't think they were around when all the hitting was going on. But they were -- I did see them when I was handcuffed to the bed. And I was afraid, I was afraid for my family, because I thought, you know, these guys, they wanted to harm me, and that they were talking to the -- to the guards and they were going to try to get information from the guards about where my -- the whereabouts of where my family was.

So, I was yelling to the guard, "Mi familia is in danger!" So, eventually they sent the prison director over to come speak with me because I was worried about my family, and he came and spoke with me, and I asked if I could make a phone call to my family. And he said that I could make one the next day in the morning, which they did allow me to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in terms of a phone call, you were arrested on March 31st. When were you first able to make a phone call to someone, to your mother?

TAHMOORESSI: I believe they let me make a phone call on the 1st.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the next day?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes. The next day.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you found that the treatment is better since the media spotlight on you? Or maybe you don't even know this media spotlight? Is there -- I mean, have things changed?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes. Things have been a lot better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)