South Florida

Marine veteran freed from Mexican jail returns home to Broward County

BY CURT ANDERSON AND JULIE WATSON Associated Press

This image taken from a video shows Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi waving on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Family spokesman Jon Franks told reporters that Tahmooressi arrived at a South Florida airport about 6 a.m. Saturday and was resting with his family at their home in suburban Weston, Fla.
This image taken from a video shows Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi waving on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Family spokesman Jon Franks told reporters that Tahmooressi arrived at a South Florida airport about 6 a.m. Saturday and was resting with his family at their home in suburban Weston, Fla. AP Photo

A retired U.S. Marine who fought in Afghanistan returned home to Weston on Saturday after spending eight months in a Mexican jail for crossing the border with loaded guns, a case that led U.S. politicians to bring intense pressure on Mexico to release him.

Family spokesman Jon Franks said the private plane carrying Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, his mother and supporters — including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — landed at about 6 a.m.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office also confirmed Tahmooressi’s arrival to Miami in a statement released Saturday.

“Ann [Scott] and I have continued to pray for his release, and we know his family is looking forward to the long overdue reunion,” said Scott in a statement. “Andrew’s mother, Jill Tahmooressi, should be praised for her determination as she fought tirelessly for her son.”

Tahmooressi was freed Friday night and reunited with his motherand then boarded the flight to South Florida in San Diego.

“They’re just spending time together, trying to figure out what’s next,” Franks told reporters at a hotel in Weston. “They need some time to decompress.” Neither Tahmooressi nor any family members spoke to media.

Tahmooressi, 26, has said he took a wrong turn on a California freeway that funneled him into a Tijuana port of entry with no way to turn back, and that he had no intention of illegally bringing guns into Mexico. His detention brought calls for his freedom from U.S. politicians, veterans groups and social media campaigns. A U.S. congressional committee held a hearing on the case.

In Mexico, possession of weapons restricted for use by the Army is a federal crime, and the country has been tightening up its border checks to stop the flow of U.S. weapons that have been used by drug cartels.

In his order Friday, the Mexican judge did not make a determination on the illegal arms charges against Tahmooressi but freed him because of his mental state, according to a statement Saturday from Mexico’s embassy in the U.S.

Tahmooressi suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, treatment for which Franks said would be the first order of business now that he is back in the U.S.

“It’s set up,” Franks said. “I think he’s going to bounce back pretty quickly.”

One other priority: after 214 days in the Mexican jail, Tahmooressi wants to grab some dinner as soon as possible at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, Franks said.

Richardson, the former Democratic governor who grew up in Mexico and has negotiated on a range of international issues, said he met with Tahmooressi in jail in the border city of Tecate, and he had talked to Mexican officials to urge them to release Tahmooressi on humanitarian grounds.

“I respect Mexico’s judicial process, and I am pleased that Andrew was released today and will return home to his family,” Richardson said in a statement Friday.

Saturday brought another outpouring of support and commentary from Democratic and Republican political figures alike. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the agency was pleased with Tahmooressi’s release and grateful for “the excellent cooperation we received from Mexican authorities.”

U.S. Rep.’s Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said they worked with U.S. and Mexican government authorities to release Tahmooressi and want to make sure he gets treatment for PTSD.

“It is my hope that Andrew can transition back to life in the U.S. after this ordeal as soon as possible, including securing the treatment he needs for his post-traumatic stress disorder and being honored for his service to our nation,” said Wasserman Schultz.

The case marks one of the first times Mexico made a ruling on PTSD — though the psychological wound is increasingly used in U.S. courts, especially in arguing for reduced prison sentences.

In his truck when he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, Tahmooressi was carrying a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. His attorney, Fernando Benitez, argued that Tahmooressi carries loaded guns with him because his weapons, which were bought legally in the U.S., make him feel safer. He added that the veteran is often distracted, which could have contributed to him becoming lost.

Still, Mexican prosecutors insisted for months that Tahmooressi broke the law. Tahmooressi never admitted wrongdoing, and he still maintains his innocence, his attorney said.

After being jailed in Tijuana, he tried to kill himself by cutting his neck with a shard from a light bulb in his cell because the guards and inmates threatened to rape, torture and kill him, Tahmooressi’s mother said.

He was transferred to another prison, where a pastor visited him regularly and the Mexican government says he was under medical observation.

But a psychiatrist hired by Mexican prosecutors to examine the Afghanistan veteran agreed with the defense that he should get PTSD treatment in the United States, noting in a Sept. 30 report that Tahmooressi, who now serves in the Marine reserve, feels like he is constantly in danger.

Tahmooressi left Florida for San Diego in January to get help after dropping out of college, unable to concentrate or sleep, his mother said.

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