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3 US governors ask Turks and Caicos to release Americans detained over ammo


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FIRST ON FOX – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday sent a letter to Turks and Caicos Islands Gov. Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam asking her to release three Americans who were recently arrested under the country’s firearm laws.

Turks and Caicos recently set the minimum prison sentence for tourists caught with stray ammunition in their luggage to 12 years, and three Americans — including Ryan Watson of Oklahoma, Tyler Wenrich of Virginia and Bryan Hagerich of Pennsylvania — arrested since February now face that fate.

“This makes no sense whatsoever. This punishment does not fit the crime,” Stitt, a Republican, told Fox News Digital. “These people were leaving the country. There was no intent. They weren’t trying to harm anybody. They weren’t using guns. Let me make sure everybody knows: there were no guns.”

Watson, a 40-year-old father of two, was arrested on April 12 for having ammo in his bag and currently remains on the island awaiting his court hearings. He previously told Fox News Digital that he had the ammo in his bag from a prior hunting trip.

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Ryan Watson and Valerie Watson on vacation in Turks and Caicos.

Ryan Watson and Valerie Watson on vacation in Turks and Caicos. (Facebook)

Stitt personally knows the Watson family because Watson’s wife, Valerie, is a teacher at the same school Stitt’s children attend.

“He can’t leave the island until he has his sentencing. And so we just hope cooler heads will prevail,” Stitt said. “But just like any family, this is a young couple with two small children. She’s now a single mom over here. … I haven’t talked to his employer, but you can imagine if you can’t work, and you can’t provide for your family, that the financial stress on the family — the emotional stress on the children — I can’t imagine.”

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Stitt noted that working Americans save up their money to go on vacation in Turks and Caicos, and the recent arrests of Americans with stray ammo in their bags may deter future travelers and hurt the Turks and Caicos economy.

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Oklahoma Gov. Stitt, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin are requesting the release of three Americans detained in Turks and Caicos. (Brandon Bell)

“Like thousands of Americans each year, these individuals traveled to your beautiful territory recently for leisure,” the governors wrote in a joint letter shared with Fox News Digital. “They have all maintained that they did not intend to bring ammunition into Turks and Caicos, and any ammunition unknowingly left in their luggage was the result of lawful conduct in the United States. We understand that none of them were carrying firearms.”

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Shapiro, a Democrat, and Youngkin, a Republican, along with Stitt, are asking Turks and Caicos to “reconsider” the charges filed against Watson, Wenrich and Hagerich and “expedite their release back to their families as soon as possible.”

READ THE BIPARTISAN LETTER – APP USERS, CLICK HERE:

“As governors, we understand and appreciate the critical importance of upholding the laws and regulations of your territory for the protection of your citizens,” they wrote. “We humbly ask that your government—in its wisdom—temper justice with mercy and recognize that these men made mistakes but had no apparent malicious intent.”

Hagerich, a 39-year-old former pro baseball player and father of two from Pennsylvania, appeared in court in Turks and Caicos on May 3, when a judge said he must stay on the islands for another three weeks until his sentencing, at which point he will learn if he must serve the minimum sentence of 12 years for carrying ammo in his bag in the airport or if his case can be adjudicated.

“It was never my intent to come here with ammunition,” Hagerich previously told Fox News Digital. “It’s just a tragedy. The separation from my wife and family has just been catastrophic.”

Bryan Hagerich poses with his children

Bryan Hagerich, a 39-year-old former pro-baseball star and father of two from Pennsylvania, appeared in court in Turks and Caicos Friday, when a judge said he must stay on the islands for another three weeks until his sentencing,  (family handout)

Wenrich — a 31-year-old father of a one-year-old son from Virginia — has a plea hearing on May 21. 

OKLAHOMA AIRPORT UNDER TSA MICROSCOPE AFTER TURKS AND CAICOS JAILS DAD FOUND WITH AMMO

“We had no intentions of ever bringing anything into this country. … It was just trying to pack board shorts and flip-flops, and that was all we were concerned about bringing,” Watson previously told Fox News Digital. “So … it never dawned on us to research any of these things. And there are a lot of locals that have been just such a blessing and have had such gracious hearts.”

Tyler Wenrich, his wife and their toddler

Tyler Wenrich is also facing a minimum 12-year prison sentence after two stray bullets were found in his bag while traveling home from Turks and Caicos. (Michael Wenrich)

The other American detained in Turks and Caicos include Michael Lee Evans, who recently pleaded guilty to carrying seven rounds of ammunition and is awaiting his sentencing.

The men must argue that they were arrested under “exceptional circumstances,” which includes proving they have no prior criminal record, they did not intend to bring ammunition into the airport and why a 12-year sentence would be excessive in their cases. All three men say they unknowingly had ammunition in their bags, which got through TSA in the United States, and were only detained after Turks and Caicos security found it in their luggage before they flew home.

People in Turks and Caicos do not have a constitutional right to carry firearms, the government said in an April press release following news of the Americans’ arrests.

“The government reminds that the Turks and Caicos Islands have clear laws against the possession of firearms and or ammunition and strict penalties in order to serve and protect the community,” the press release said. “Firearm and or ammunition offences carry a mandatory minimum custodial sentence of 12 years plus a fine.”

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The State Department recently issued a PSA on X saying Americans “can be arrested for having any ammunition, even a single stray shell or casing” in “many countries. The Department prompted travelers to check pockets and “every nook and cranny” of suitcases “before traveling to avoid running into problems overseas.”

“Our State Department should be getting involved,” Stitt said. “We’ve reached out to them. They need to put pressure on [the Turks and Caicos government]. I’ve done everything I can as governor to talk to the State Department, to talk to the governor of Turks, to call … my contacts and members of Parliament. We’re doing everything we can.”



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