Governors Urge Turks and Caicos Officials to Release Americans Held on Ammo Charges

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

At least six Americans have been arrested and charged with illegally bringing ammunition into the Turks and Caicos Islands since the beginning of the year, and they now face the potential of spending more than a decade in prison for failing to check their luggage before they headed off for a tropical vacation. 


U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) says he's spoken to the State Department about the arrests, but apart from a travel advisory the Biden administration hasn't taken any public steps to try to get these citizens released. 

While the State Department dithers, a bipartisan group of three governors have reached out directly to the Turks and Caicos governor to "humbly ask" that officials "temper mercy with justice" and return the arrestees to their families "as soon as possible." Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro note that none of the individuals who've been charged had firearms with them when they were arrested. 

As they write, mistakes may have been made, but there was no malicious intent. In fact, every one of these tourists was caught with illicit ammunition as they were leaving the islands. 


One of the men, Ryan Tyler Watson, of Oklahoma, went to the Turks and Caicos with his wife and other couples to celebrate several people’s 40th birthdays, his sister, Jessica Byrd, said on a GoFundMe page she set up to raise money for his legal defense.As Watson and his wife were heading home in April, airport security found four rounds of ammunition that had been unknowingly left in a duffel bag from a deer hunting trip, according to the page. Watson’s wife, Valerie, was released and returned home. He made bail, but remains on the islands, with a hearing scheduled for June. 

The Turks and Caicos government has identified the three other men as: Michael Lee Evans, 72, of Texas; Bryan Hagerich, of Pennsylvania; and Tyler Scott Wenrich, 31, of Virginia. 

Evans had a court hearing in April and has pleaded guilty to possessing seven 9mm rounds of ammunition, and Hagerich pleaded guilty to possessing 20 rounds of rifle ammunition and was scheduled to be back in court on May 3, according to an April 26 news release from the Communications Directorate. The release said Evans and Hagerich were also on bail.

The fifth American, Sharitta Shanise Grier, 45, of Orlando, Florida, was arrested Monday during a routine search at the airport, the Royal Turks and Caicos Island Police said in a news release posted to X on Thursday. She was charged with one count of possession of ammunition and was due back in court in July, the release said.


Earlier this week former Turks and Caicos premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson penned a column bashing Stitt's criticism of the law, but her defense of the statute is as ridiculous as the law itself. 

The mandatory 12 years may appear harsh to persons, but in this climate, deciding what is just, is not easy. When we have senseless killings in broad daylight, violent gangs and innocent bystanders being shot and sometimes killed in their own home, are we likewise considering this? Especially when former leaders are calling for reviews and for prison doors to be opened. But in all of our sensationalism, there are fewer than five residents who may have been sentenced under this new law.

Why, if there are gangland killings, home invasions, and murders in broad daylight, have fewer than five residents have been sentenced under the law? I mean, if the law is of such public safety benefit, surely it would be used more often, right? Instead, based on Cartright-Robinson's own estimate the law prohibiting unlawful possession of arms and ammunition has been used more often against tourists who accidentally left some ammo in their bag than the violent offenders who are driving crime in the islands. 


Joe Biden isn't going to ban U.S. travel to the Turks and Caicos as Still has suggested, but gun owners should think long and hard before booking a vacation on the islands. Not only do you run the risk of wasting away in a Caribbean prison if an errant round remains in your luggage, you're giving money to a regime that forbids its own residents from owning firearms for self-defense or other lawful purposes. If you're looking for fun, sun, and sand, take a trip to Constitutional Carry Florida instead.  

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