SAN DIEGO — A former Marine recruit who has spent more than two years behind bars without trial could soon be administratively separated from the service, his attorney says.
Jay-Ar Ruiz, 28, a Marine Corps private, was arrested during training at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot for striking a drill instructor in January 2018 and has spent most of the last two years confined to the brig at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
According to his attorney, Bethany Payton-O’Brien, an administrative separation board appointing order was issued by the Marines for Ruiz on Tuesday and could convene within 35 days.
Payton-O’Brien wrote a letter to the commanding general of the San Diego Marine Recruit Depot, Brig. Gen. Ryan Heritage, saying her client must be released immediately, because the Corps has signaled its intention to discharge the man administratively.
An administrative separation is how the Marine Corps fires people. It usually is not punitive, like a court-martial; it is an administrative proceeding.
In a statement Tuesday, a Marine Corps spokesman told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it is “inappropriate for the Marine Corps to comment on the specifics of this case or actions taken until final action is reached.
“In the case of Private Jay-Ar Ruiz, charges have been referred to General Court-Martial and are currently pending adjudication,” the statement said.
Usually in the military justice system, a service member would face an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, and a hearing officer would recommend whether to proceed with a court-martial. A convening authority — a senior officer — would then officially decide whether to refer the case to court-martial.
A charge sheet is put together in advance of such a hearing.
Ruiz has had two Article 32 hearings.
The Marine Corps has declined the Union-Tribune’s Freedom of Information Act request for Ruiz’ charge sheet and wouldn’t confirm or deny that one exists. The Union-Tribune is appealing the Corps’ denial.
As first reported in the Union-Tribune, Ruiz reported to the Marine Corps’ San Diego boot camp in November 2018 and soon began engaging in behaviors his attorney says are attributed to a personality disorder.
At the time, Ruiz was subject to a restraining order filed by a Los Angeles County woman. Once at boot camp, Ruiz began sending the woman a large volume of correspondence.
When he was confronted by a Marine staff sergeant about violating his restraining order, Ruiz became violent, and struck the senior drill instructor, according to Payton-O’Brien.
The instructor placed Ruiz in a choke hold, Ruiz told the Union-Tribune in an email.
He was confined to the Miramar brig in January 2018 and has been in custody since.
Payton-O’Brien told the Union-Tribune in an interview she believes Ruiz never should have been recruited or shipped off to boot camp.
She said she thinks the Marines are violating the law by keeping him in custody.
“He can be put (in pretrial confinement) before a court-martial, not for administrative separation,” she said by phone. “We asked for a meeting with the (staff judge advocate for the Marines) to discuss, but they’ve declined.”
In her recent letter to Heritage, Payton-O’Brien detailed more of the history of the Marine recruit’s case.
According to Payton-O’Brien’s letter, in March 2018, after his first Article 32 hearing, Ruiz was determined unfit for trial and not responsible for his offenses by the Marines due to an unspecified personality disorder.
Four months later he was transferred to the custody of the Attorney General at a secure federal medical center in Springfield, Missouri.
In December 2018, having been found competent for trial, Ruiz was transferred back to the Miramar brig. Ruiz was again found not competent for trial after his second Article 32 hearing in May 2019.
“Even the Article 32 hearing officer noted in his report that PVT Ruiz was not responsible for his own offenses and not competent to assist in his own defense,” Payton-O’Brien wrote.
“Despite … the conclusions of the Article 32 report, the government still proceeded with referring the charges to court-martial.”
In July 2019, according to Payton-O’Brien, a military judge again found Ruiz not competent for trial.
“It was noted by experts at the … hearing that pretrial confinement was negatively impacting PVT Ruiz’s state of mental health,” Payton-O’Brien wrote. “The government did not send PVT Ruiz to the federal mental health facility until November 2019, four months (later).”
As of Thursday, Ruiz remains in the Springfield facility, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ inmate tracker website.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.