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American who carried ammunition in Turks and Caicos gets suspended sentence and heads home. Fate of others charged is unclear


By Michael Rios, Holly Yan and AnneClaire Stapleton, CNN

(CNN) — The first of several Americans recently charged with possession of ammunition in Turks and Caicos headed home Friday after getting a suspended 52-week sentence and a $6,700 fine, his representatives said.

But four other Americans still await their fate. In recent months, all were arrested and accused of bringing in various amounts of ammunition to the 40-island chain southeast of the Bahamas. In the Turks and Caicos, possession of firearms or ammunition carries a minimum 12-year sentence, though the law allows reduced sentences under “exceptional circumstances,” the local governor said.

Bryan Hagerich of Pennsylvania had pleaded guilty to the charge, the Turks and Caicos government said.

On Friday, he got a 52-week sentence that was suspended for one year, meaning he would not face immediate incarceration, Hagerich’s attorney Oliver Smith, King’s Counsel, told CNN.

Hagerich was allowed to leave the British Overseas Territory and return to the United States once he paid the fine, Smith said. He would have to serve the full 12-month sentence if the fine was not paid.

Hagerich flew back to the US Friday afternoon, according to Johnathan Franks, a spokesperson for the Bring Our Families Home Campaign. The organization helps wrongfully detained Americans secure release.

“Very grateful to the Court for giving two very special kids their dad back. Even more grateful to the numerous (Turks and Caicos Islands) nationals who helped along the way,” Franks posted to X along with a picture of Hagerich boarding a plane.

After Hagerich arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport on Friday night, he told reporters he was “absolutely elated” to have his two children jump into his arms, according to CNN affiliate WTAE.

“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Hagerich said. “A lot of memories to make together. Just so elated to see them. They’ve been so strong through all this.”

Smith said his client was “pleased, he’s relieved” by the outcome.

“The sentence, in all its circumstances, is reasonable and fair,” Smith said.

After Hagerich’s sentencing, Turks and Caicos Premier Washington Misick said justice “has been served as the law intended.”

“As we have said, The Firearms Act includes consideration for exceptional circumstances,” Misick said, “and today’s decision reflects our commitment to judicial independence along with upholding the law. Residents and visitors can be confident that the Turks and Caicos Islands are dedicated to safety and compassion as we protect the safety and rights of all.”

The four other Americans charged have been released on bail while they await their court dates, Misick’s office said in a statement. One was allowed to return to the US for medical reasons, and the rest are staying in Turks and Caicos.

US lawmakers tried to get Americans freed

A US congressional delegation traveled to the islands this week and asked for charges to be dropped for the five Americans whom they said “inadvertently” had ammunition in their luggage.

Hagerich’s sentencing came after the US officials expressed disappointment over their attempted intervention.

“Unfortunately, despite our willingness to work with Turks and Caicos officials to get our constituents home, we were not able to find a path forward,” Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said in a statement this week.

In addition to Hagerich, two other Americans – Michael Lee Evans and Tyler Wenrich – have pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition while traveling in Turks and Caicos, according to the territory’s government.

Evans was allowed to return to the US over a “severe” medical situation, but will be required to return to Turks and Caicos for his next hearing, Smith said.

A fourth American, Ryan Tyler Watson, will have a hearing Tuesday to determine if he will enter a plea or go to trial, Smith said.

A fifth American, Sharitta Shinese Grier, was arrested last week and is awaiting trial after making bail, according to Kimo Tynes​​​​, director of communications in the Office of the Premier and Public Policy.

Watson’s wife, who will appear in Turks and Caicos court next week for her husband’s ammunition offenses, told CNN her husband plans to employ a similar legal strategy as Hagerich.

“I think we’re planning to kind of follow the same path that Bryan did,” Valerie Watson told CNN on Saturday. “I think they’ve got a plan that they’ve already come up with.”

Hagerich and Watson share the same attorney, Valerie Watson said. “I think he’s ready to just go in (to court) on Tuesday so they can get that going,” she added.

Turks and Caicos: No special treatment should be given to any group

Turks and Caicos Gov. Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam said the mandatory minimum 12-year sentence for possession of firearms or ammunition is in place to protect those on the islands, and judges may use their discretion to impose reduced sentences in “exceptional circumstances.”

But no special treatment should be given to any group, the Turks and Caicos premier said.

“The law must be applied even-handedly,” Misick said.

And US citizens are not being targeted, Turks and Caicos officials said. Of the 195 people sentenced for firearm-related offenses over the past six years, only seven were US citizens, Misick said Thursday. No US citizen has received the 12-year sentence to date.

Even though the territory doesn’t manufacture firearms or ammunition, the number of firearms finding their way to the islands has increased, Misick said. By contrast, the United States has more guns than people.

Now, bringing firearms or ammunition into Turks and Caicos without prior permission from police is “strictly forbidden.”

While the US and Turks and Caicos collaborate in battling narcotics, terrorism and money laundering, “our laws and processes are not congruent,” Misick said.

“We are a separate sovereignty. We respect the United States’ laws and we will never think to interfere in its operation.”

But at least one appointed member of the opposition, Alvin Garland, expressed concern about the American citizens’ arrests.

Garland said the islands’ governor is correct in not interfering with the ongoing court cases in order to adhere to the government’s separation of powers, but added he believes most, if not all, of the cases involving American tourists will fall into the “exceptional circumstances category” and sentences could be shorter than the mandatory 12-year minimum.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Carlos Suarez, Maija Ehlinger, Amanda Musa, Hira Humayun, Lauren Mascarenhas and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Turks and Caicos Governor Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam.

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