WAUCONDA, Ill. (WLS) — A north suburban couple said their relaxing tropical vacation in Mexico ended in a jailhouse, on a dirt floor, in their swimsuits. The husband and wife said they were unfairly arrested and assaulted by Mexican police.
The couple said they believe they were initially targeted for wearing expensive jewelry and that Mexican police still have some of their valuable belongings. They said after their arrest they were roughed up and held on a jailhouse floor for almost eight hours without being charged with a crime.
“It was hell. I never want to go to Mexico again in my life,” Adina Neuwirth said.
Jeff and Adina Neuwirth are recovering from injuries in their Wauconda home. Jeff showed the I-Team the bruises, one from when he said he was punched in the face by someone at his resort in Mexico. There are also bruises on his side, which he said are from Playa Del Carmen Police kneeing him.
“They kneed me a couple more times and they tried to take my ring and I told them no, and I was closing my hand behind my back so they couldn’t pull it off. And that’s when one of them handed a Taser and they Tased me. So I was kneed six times, Tased once,” Jeff said.
The Neuwirths both have cuts on their wrists, which they said is from being handcuffed.
“The handcuffs were so tight that it caused blisters on my hands and it cut off the circulation,” Jeff said.
Jeff said he was thrown head first into the back of a police truck.
“I watched Adina get thrown in first,” he said.
“I was in a string bikini, in jail, with no shoes,” Adina said.
Consumer Investigative Reporter Jason Knowles has this I-Team Takeaway – tips to protect yourself when traveling out of the country.
The couple said their vacation nightmare began when they were at the pool at their resort, the Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla.
“So as I was looking around. I noticed this guy staring at me. And it just, it was unsettling,” Jeff said.
The Neuwirths believe they were targeted by three men because Adina was wearing her $85,000 diamond ring.
“They said something verbal then, and then I said something back to them, and I got punched in the face,” Jeff explained.
Shortly afterward, they say police arrived and arrested the couple.
“Well, I was shocked,” said Adina. “I was not involved in the altercation whatsoever. I was completely removed from it.”
Then they said, police handcuffed them and escorted them to their hotel room, where they said police forced them to open their safe and turn over cash, TAG watches, and other high-end beauty products. Then they were hauled off to jail.
“It is beyond horrible,” Adina said.
The couple provided the I-Team receipts of some of the items they said police never returned and submitted them with affidavits to the U.S. consulate in Mexico of what they say happened. A U.S. Department of State official told the I-Team, “We are aware of this case and are providing all appropriate consular services.”
The Neuwirths said they were never charged.
“We didn’t get any paperwork. We were released with our bags and our belongings,” Adina explained.
They say they were unfairly kicked out from their hotel and that they booked a flight to go home.
“We were literally walked out of the police station at 1:20 in the morning and left on a street. And we didn’t even know where we were,” Adina said.
The hotel’s parent company, Melia Hotels International, said, “Since there is an investigation currently taking place, we cannot make any statements.”
Then Apple Vacations told the I-Team it was in contact with the hotel to determine if a refund is appropriate, adding that its representative alerted the U.S. consulate on behalf of the couple and went to the police station with them, staying until the evening, something the Neuwirths dispute.
“We didn’t even know if anyone would know or find out that we were in jail. I had no clue that my mom even knew,” said Adina. “She spent hours on the phone with Apple and with the resort, trying to figure things out.”
Apple Vacations also said that there is a record of the Neuwirths’ “… aggressive actions and harassment to resort management.” And that, “We are told that the police then made the decision to arrest the Neuwirths based on their physical resistance to being taken into custody.”
Apple would not supply the I-Team with any official reports and the Neuwirths said they weren’t causing any trouble.
A spokesperson from the Secretary of Security and Civilian protection, a federal agency in Mexico responsible for supervising public safety, did not comment but gave the I-Team a contact for the Public Safety Ministry in Playa Del Carmen.
The I-Team called and sent that police contact messages outlining the Neuwirths’ claims and allegations of police theft, along with the affidavits. We haven’t heard back.
The Neuwirths said they were treated horribly by the police.
“Like garbage. Like prisoners of war. Like we did something awful and we didn’t do anything at all,” said Adina.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR MEXICO AND TRAVEL ABROAD FROM IMG SECURITY
1. Always pre-arrange your transportation from the airport to your hotel.
2. Stay at reputable resorts or hotels.
3. Never use Libre or independent taxis. Always arrange taxis through your hotel
4. Leave your expensive and irreplaceable jewelry at home.
5. Be back at your resort/hotel by dark.
6. If you are arrested, be compliant and do not argue. Do not assert what you believe to be your rights. Request to speak with a representative from the US Embassy/Consulate. Remember, your rights as a U.S. citizen do not transfer to Mexico.
7. Do not sign documents at a police station that you do not understand, especially if it appears to be a statement. Request a translator, or again, ask to speak with a representative from the US Embassy.
8. Do not overindulge in alcohol in public places. Doing so can make you an easy target.
9. Do not use drugs in Mexico. They are illegal there too!
10. Do not exchange money at your arrival airport. Rather, do this in your departing airport if you need money for taxis, tips, etc.
11. If you are arrested or approached by a police office and they appear to be seeking a bribe, refuse to pay them and request that you be transported to the police station and have the US Embassy notified.
12. Only use ATMs inside hotels or bank lobbies. Avoid using ATMs located in the open or directly on a street.
13. Never exchange currency on the street. Rather, use a bank or hotel to do this.
14. Keep a list of important phone numbers including the emergency numbers for police, fire and medical response; the nearest US Embassy/Consulate; and an approved medical provider or hospital.
15. Do some research on the area(s) to be visited to learn more about potential threats to your safety including planned protests or demonstrations, labor strikes, natural disasters or an increase in drug cartel violence.
16. Enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to let the US Embassy know you will be in the country and how to contact you.
17. Travelers, especially females, should never leave their drinks unattended in public places.
18. Don’t drink the water! Even though most higher end hotels and resorts have their own filtration systems, the water still can give you an upset stomach. Use only bottle water and skip the drinks that need ice cubes.
19. There have been incidents involving travelers getting ill and even dying from tainted alcohol at resorts in Mexico. If you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded or ill, stop drinking immediately. You may want to consider limiting your alcoholic consumption to beer in bottles or cans opened in front of you.