The full story behind that viral video of a sergeant major rummaging through a Marine’s home
You've seen the video. Now get the full story.
A former Marine has released a viral video that he claims shows a sergeant major conducting an unauthorized search of his home, but a spokesman for the Corps said that is a false accusation.
On Saturday, Juan Gamez – whose full last name is Gamez-Alzate – tweeted the video, which he claimed revealed the sergeant major for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 101, Christian Bull, “trespassing at my residence and rummaging through my closet.”
Gamez-Alzate tagged Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and others, arguing that his Constitutional rights had been violated.
While enlisted service members are used to first sergeants or sergeants major inspecting the barracks, the fact that this enlisted leader allegedly walked into a Marine’s off-base home unannounced seemed over the line, and may have appeared to some, particularly current and former junior enlisted Marines, as an abuse of power.
However, the Marine Corps is adamant that the video, and Gamez-Alzate’s twitter post, don’t tell the full story. On the day the video was taken, Gamez-Alzate was listed in an “unauthorized absence” status, said Maj. Alex Lim, a spokesman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Gamez-Alzate, who was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, had been seen at work the day before, so his command was concerned about his sudden absence.
It later turned out that the reason he was absent was because he had been arrested on Oct. 15 by the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia for allegedly driving with a suspended license and following another vehicle too closely, The Newnan Times-Herald reported that month.
The sheriff’s office provided Task & Purpose with a copy of Gamez-Alzate’s investigation report, which shows he was stopped at roughly 7:51 p.m. on Oct. 15 for allegedly driving too closely to another vehicle. A separate “crime incident” noted in the report has been redacted.
The report does not provide much detail about why Gamez-Alzate was arrested. The investigator wrote: “Traffic stop [Redacted]. The investigation continues.”
Charges are still pending, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Because he had been unresponsive to phone calls and had not been seen, the squadron leadership conducted a health and comfort inspection out of concern for his well-being and was granted access to the apartment,” Lim said.
In November, Gamez-Alzate was separated from the Corps in lieu of a trial and given an other-than-honorable discharge, Lim said.
In a phone interview, Gamez-Alzate acknowledged that he was on unauthorized absence at the time of his arrest in Georgia, explaining that his brother had died recently and he was visiting family.
He also said that he didn’t ask for permission to make this and several other family visits because his supervisor had twice refused to process his request to go on terminal leave following his brother’s death.
On the night of Oct. 15, police immediately notified his chain of command when he was taken into custody, Gamez-Alzate said. The following morning, when he was given his free phone call, he informed his sergeant major of his situation.
He said the video that he posted on Twitter shows Bull inside his off-base private residence on the morning of Oct. 16 even though his chain of command had been notified about his whereabouts.
“The Marine Corps aircraft group was notified that I was under custody on the night of Oct. 15, so why is he doing a welfare check on the morning of the 16th when he knows that I’m in custody?” Gamez-Alzate said.
However, Lim called Gamez-Alzate’s recollection of events “false,” saying the chain of command learned that Gamez-Alzate was being held in Georgia after Bull entered his home.
In fact, Bull had prepared himself in case he found Gamez-Alzate’s body when he went into the Marine’s home.
“To reiterate, the sergeant major entered Gamez-Alzate’s home not knowing the former sergeant’s whereabouts,” Lim said.
Upon his return to Miramar, Gamez-Alzate was placed in the brig and Marine Corps officials attempted to charge him with being on authorized absence, he said.
“I said: Look, I am not trying to hide anything,” Gamez-Alzate said. “Please try to understand the reason why I was UA [unauthorized absence]: My family was facing hardship due to the fact of the loss of my little brother.”
Gamez-Alzate said he decided to be separated in lieu of trial so that he could get out of the Marine Corps quicker and help his family.
The reason he posted the video on Twitter over the weekend is he has filed an inspector general’s complaint claiming that Bull entered his home without proper authority and he wanted to speed the IG process along, Gamez-Alzate said.
“I want people to be held accountable for their mistakes,” Gamez-Alzate said. “That’s how you grow. Once you have full ownership of your mistakes and you accept that you made a mistake, that’s how you grow.”
Featured image: A screenshot of the video showing the sergeant major for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 101 inside a former Marine’s home.