Four Armed Mexican Marines Are Arrested in Imperial Beach

Times Staff Writer

Four Mexican marines--in uniform and armed with loaded assault rifles--were arrested in Imperial Beach after they had walked about 1 1/2 miles into U.S. territory, the Border Patrol said Monday.

The arrests occurred about 10:30 p.m. Sunday after a Border Patrol helicopter spotted the men near Seacoast Drive. Border Patrol spokesman Mike Nicley said that the border area--the western edge of the land border between the two countries--where the Mexicans crossed is “clearly marked.”

Harold Ezell, the Immigration and Naturalization Service Western regional commissioner, said that the marines were repatriated at 5:30 p.m. Monday to a Mexican marine officer. The men and their weapons were turned over to the custody of Capt. Nemesio Ramon Matus, who apologized for the incident, Ezell said.


“The men (marines) were very courteous and conducted themselves very well . . . Capt. Matus was extremely sincere in his statement and said this will not happen again,” Ezell said.

Despite initial allegations by the Border Patrol that the men crossed the border deliberately, Ezell said U.S. authorities accepted the Mexican government’s explanation that the incident was unintentional.

According to Nicley, the Mexican servicemen are all privates and tried to flee south when they were spotted. Nicley said that Border Patrol agents are unsure how long the Mexicans were in the United States before they were apprehended.

Did Not Resist

Although Border Patrol agents--normally armed with .357 magnum revolvers and shotguns--were heavily outgunned, the Mexicans did not resist and were taken into custody without incident, Nicley said.

Details about the arrests remained sketchy Monday. The Border Patrol refused to release more information about the incident except to say that “the investigation is still in the embryonic stage.”

However, Luis Morones, Mexican consul general in San Diego, said consular officials who spoke with the Mexican servicemen were told that they inadvertently crossed the border while pursuing two men they thought were drug or arms traffickers.


“It wasn’t intentional,” Morones said. “They ran across the border in pursuit of the two suspects. We don’t know if they were Mexican or U.S. citizens.”

He added that the four servicemen were assigned to a marine detachment about a dozen miles south of Tijuana in Rosarito.

Ezell said Border Patrol officials believe the marines’ story, which he said was confirmed in part by six illegal aliens who were interviewed by Border Patrol agents.

“I feel that they were (telling the truth). They said that they had problems in the Playa de Tijuana area . . . . We had six illegal Mexican aliens in custody who had been contacted by these guys,” Ezell said. “All they did was lay them down and search them for drugs. They didn’t take anything from them. I told the captain that we’re not perfect. We all make mistakes.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Ben Justesen said U.S. officials have no plans to file a diplomatic protest with the Mexican government over the incident. But Justesen termed the entry “an infringement of U.S. territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable regardless of the motivation.”

May Have Had Reason

Despite the violation of U.S. territory, Justesen played down the incident and said that the Mexicans may have had a good reason for entering the United States.

“Although we don’t have an agreement with Mexico concerning this issue, the United States believes that the concepts of joint interdiction and hot pursuit whereby the border between the United States and Mexico ceases to be an artificial impediment to all enforcement activities have merit,” Justesen said.

Border Patrol Chief Agent Dale Cozart told reporters Monday that the four servicemen were spotted while talking to a group of about 15 picnickers on the beach. When a Border Patrol helicopter shined a spotlight on them, the picnickers scattered and the marines attempted to run south into Mexico, Cozart said.

Nicley said that Border Patrol investigators are attempting to locate members of the group of picnickers, but as of Monday afternoon had not interviewed any of them.