Families claim Americans are ‘unjustly detained’ in Turks and Caicos for possession of ammunition


MEXICO CITY (AP) — The families of four Americans charged in Turks and Caicos for carrying ammunition insisted on Thursday that their loved ones were “unjustly detained” on the island awaiting legal proceedings.

Last week, the government of the Turks and Caicos confirmed that they had charged four American men for collectively carrying 33 rounds of ammunition. It identified the four men as Michael Lee Evans, Bryan Hagerich, Tyler Scott Wenrich and Ryan Tyler Watson.

In a statement published on social media last week, the government said their islands “have clear laws against the possession of firearms and/or ammunition and strict penalties in order to serve and protect the community.”

As of last week, Hagerich and Evans had both pled guilty to charges.

It is illegal to transport firearms or ammunition to or from any of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries – including Turks and Caicos – without a license, according to the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which warns travelers repeatedly on its site.

Following a big jump in gun violence and weapons trafficking in Turks and Caicos, the government significantly tightened their gun laws in 2022. Violating the law could result in a minimum 12 year prison sentence, though the government said that can be lowered in “exceptional circumstances.”

According to a post by relatives on the fundraising site GoFundMe, the four men were on vacation on the islands celebrating a friend’s birthday and when they tried to return home security found “ammunition unknowingly left in a duffel bag from a deer hunting trip” which went unnoticed by authorities when leaving the United States.

Turks and Caicos said in its statement that it is “the travelers’ responsibility to ensure their baggage is free of” weapons and ammunition, which is “strictly forbidden” without prior permission. ATF also warns it is the “responsibility of the traveler to research local laws.”

The families called for help in paying for mounting legal fees and living expenses, and as of Friday had raised more than $220,000. Authorities and the post say the men have been released on bail, but the families allege that Hagerich “has been unjustly detained in Turks for 81 days now” others have spent weeks stuck on the island awaiting legal proceedings separated from their children and families.

“They are facing a legal system that is unfamiliar, daunting, and expensive that operates differently than the American Justice System,” read the post.

On Thursday, Jessica Byrd, organizer of the funding campaign and Watson’s older sister, said Hagerich, who pled guilty to possession of twenty rounds of rifle ammunition, was set to go on trial on Friday. She added he was was likely to be sentenced that same day or next week.