Demonstrators gathered outside the historic Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento on Tuesday to protest the jailing of a U.S. Marine in Mexico.
Gov. Jerry Brown was hosting a luncheon for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the mansion, part of Pena’s two-day visit to California.
“I refuse to eat with Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi’s captors,” said Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who helped organize the protest. “We want him to give us our Marine back.”
The Marine reservist, Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, illegally entered Mexico in March with three firearms and is awaiting trial. Tahmooressi says he crossed the border by accident, and his case has become a cause celebre for some conservatives in the United States.
Mexican officials say the judicial system must run its course, and Brown did not publicly address the issue when he was in Mexico City on a four-day trade mission last month.
The protesters said they believed Tahmooressi’s explanation that he crossed into Mexico by accident.
“It was just an honest mistake,” said Diane Nye, a mother of four from Fair Oaks, Calif.
Fidel Taylor, a firearms instructor and retired police officer, drove an hour from Valley Springs, Calif., for the protest. He wore an American flag shirt, carried an iPhone in an American flag case and hoisted a “Free Our Marine” sign.
Taylor served in the Army during Desert Storm and said protests are needed to get the attention of political leaders. Asked about the Mexican legal process underway in Tahmooressi’s case, he said: “We have to respect their system. But do I feel like he’s gotten a fair shake? Not at all.”
He’s disappointed President Obama has negotiated for captives such as Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but has not addressed Tahmooressi’s case publicly.
Brown, speaking on KNX-AM in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, declined to answer questions about Tahmooressi.
“I think it’s the prudent course for me, as the chief executive, not to start opining on factual legal matters that only a radio host is presenting,” he said.
Brown also dismissed Donnelly, who ran for governor this year until finishing behind Republican opponent Neel Kashkari in the June primary, as a conspiracy theorist.
“He thinks Common Core,” which are new standards for school curricula, “is some U.N. plot or something,” Brown said. “Some people are so far out in right field.”
Other Republican lawmakers have taken different approaches to the situation. GOP state Sen. Joel Anderson said he won’t join the protest, but he won’t attend the lunch either.
“I am concerned that our military would feel betrayed if it appeared we condoned the harsh and unfair treatment of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi,” he said in a statement.
GOP Assemblyman Donald Wagner said he will attend the lunch and hopes to speak with the Mexican president directly about Tahmooressi.
“I do not believe a sidewalk protest by members of the Legislature is an appropriate or particularly effective way to continue advancing the cause of justice in this case,” Wagner said in a statement.
Donnelly said he was glad some of his Republican colleagues planned to address the issue with the president.
“That’s how they choose to deal with it,” he said. “I have my own way.”