Arrests ruled unlawful in human smuggling case against Marines
CAMP PENDLETON — Military prosecutors dropped human trafficking and drug charges against most of the two dozen Marines recently arrested in front of their Camp Pendleton battalion, days after a court ruled those arrests were an unlawful violation of their rights, Marine Corps officials confirmed Tuesday.
The Marines’ cases will be dealt with administratively, outside the military court system, according to a 1st Marine Division statement. Many of them will be discharged from the Marines.
“Thirteen Marines submitted and have approved pretrial agreements requesting separation in lieu of courts-martial or waiving administrative separation boards,” the Marines statement said.
Also six Marines have pleaded guilty at courts-martial, and four still face criminal charges, the statement said.
Until now, the Marines had not answered questions or responded to requests for information about the cases by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The July 25 arrests were captured on video by the Marine Corps and first published by the Union-Tribune in November.
At first 16 Marines were called to the front of their unit — 1st Battalion, 5th Marines — and accused of human smuggling. They were arrested by a swarm of 40 to 50 law enforcement agents and marched away in handcuffs.
Another eight Marines suspected of unspecified drug offenses also were taken out of formation. Some of them were detained by battalion personnel and taken to the Camp Pendleton brig, said Lt. Col. Eric Olson, the battalion commanding officer, during testimony at a court hearing Nov. 15.
Three video clips show the July 25 arrest of Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
Marines in the formation that day testified at the hearing that their commanders called the accused Marines a “cancer” on the battalion.
The cases against the Marines fell apart after that hearing. The judge ruled the mass arrest — conducted in front of an 800person battalion — was an unlawful violation of their rights, attorneys involved in two of the cases said.
Marine Capt. Charles Whitman, who represents a Marine charged with drug offenses, successfully argued that the arrests amounted to unlawful command influence.
Unlawful command influence, often called the “mortal enemy of military justice,” occurs when a commander uses his position of authority to influence court proceedings. Commanders have authority over courts-martial and therefore are expected to remain impartial during the process.
Screenshot shows military law enforcement, including NCIS, handcuff, search and lead away detained Marines in front of their peers at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California.