Four Americans charged with ammunition crimes in Turks and Caicos Islands



CNN

Four Americans charged with weapons possession during tropical Atlantic flight to Turks and Caicos according to a report of the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

According to the TCI government, carrying firearms is prohibited in Turks and Caicos. The introduction of any firearms or ammunition, including stray bullets, into the British Overseas Territory without prior police permission is ‘strictly prohibited’.

Individuals who violate the law face a minimum of 12 years in prison, according to an April advisory from the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas. A post on X from the island government states that judges have the discretion to lower the minimum if there are “exceptional circumstances.”

According to the Turks and Caicos government release, the four Americans are: Michael Lee Evans, 72; Bryan Hagerich (no age given); Tyler Scott Wenrich, 31; and Ryan Tyler Watson, 40.

‘Darkest days and nights of my life’

Hagerich detailed his recent arrest in Turks and Caicos in an ABC exclusive after pleading guilty to bringing live ammunition to the islands while on vacation.

He is expected to be sentenced on May 29, an attorney representing him told CNN. A court heard pre-sentencing arguments from Hagerich’s defense team and prosecutors on Friday, according to his attorney, Oliver Smith. Smith said he “challenges the constitutionality of the legislation as it relates to how a judge can sentence a suspect under current law.”

The court is expected to rule on this constitutional point and sentence Hagerich according to its May 29 ruling, Smith said.

In the interview with ABC’s Matt Rivers before the court proceedings, Hagerich said taking the ammunition was an accident.

Hagerich was arrested in February after several rounds of ammunition were found in his luggage while going through airport security, he told ABC. Hagerich and his family left Turks and Caicos and returned home after a vacation with their children, he said.

While at the airport, Hagerich told ABC his name was called over the PA system after his bag was selected for a random search.

Authorities then found hunting ammunition. Hagerich said he forgot it was in his bag after a recent trip.

Bryan’s wife, Ashley, told ABC she begged officials to go easy on them.

“I remember begging, ‘Can’t we just pay a fine? Like it was an honest mistake,” Ashley told ABC, “and it was a firm ‘No.’”

Hagerich said in an interview broadcast Friday morning that he was arrested in the presence of his children, ages four and six, and spent eight nights in jail.

“Those were definitely the darkest days and nights of my life,” Hagerich said.

Hagerich pleaded guilty to possessing 20 rounds of ammunition, the Turks and Caicos Islands government said.

Hagerich asks for leniency.

“I am the first to acknowledge that I take full responsibility for my actions.” But Hagerich added: “There are alternative ways in which this can be handled and addressed that are within the laws of the Turks and Caicos Islands and that would allow me to return home to my family.”

While out on bail, Hagerich shared a short-term rental with another American recently charged under the law, Ryan Watson, he told ABC.

“This is probably the loneliest I’ve ever been in my life,” Watson told ABC’s Matt Rivers. “To have someone who is experiencing exactly the same thing as you… It gives you a little bit of support,” he added.

According to TCI police, Watson was arrested on April 12 at Howard Hamilton International Airport on Providenciales Island for a similar crime. After posting $15,000 bail, Watson was released from prison on April 24, but was forced to surrender his passport and remain on the archipelago.

According to the TCI government, his next court hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Watson and his wife Valerie were arrested as they left Turks and Caicos, where they were celebrating some of their friends’ 40th birthdays, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with expenses.

Airport security found four rounds of ammunition that had been “unknowingly left in a duffel bag during a deer hunt,” the post said.

Valerie Watson was released and allowed to return to Oklahoma, according to an April 23 update on the fundraising page. The page gives no reason for her release.

The TCI government has declined to comment further on the arrested Americans.

The ammunition was “undetected by TSA upon leaving America,” the GoFundMe post said. “Now they face a legal system that is unfamiliar, intimidating and expensive.”

In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, the TSA confirmed that four rounds of ammunition were not found in a traveler’s bag during a security checkpoint at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City., from which Watson traveled.

“TSA takes its security mission very seriously,” a TSA spokesperson said. “TSA is here to protect our transportation security systems, and an oversight occurred that the agency is addressing internally.”

The agency added that it is working to perfect systems that detect prohibited items to ensure seamless and safe travel.

CNN has reached out to the Watson and Hagerich families for more information about their cases and is trying to reach attorneys for both men.

Two additional Americans – Michael Lee Evans and Tyler Scott Wenrich – also face lengthy prison sentences for possession of ammunition, according to the TCI government.

“Travelers are strongly advised to search their luggage before traveling to the Turks and Caicos Islands to ensure they do not accidentally bring with them any prohibited items,” the TCI government notice said. “The United States Transportation Security Administration screening may not identify ammunition in a traveler’s luggage.”

Airline passengers are also encouraged to research local laws when traveling internationally and to start packing for travel with an empty bag, the TSA said.

Know before you go to Turks and Caicos

Prospective tourists considering a trip to Turks and Caicos can access warnings from TCI and the US State Department about the British Overseas Territory’s gun and ammunition laws – if you know where to find them online.

Last month, the State Department issued a travel alert advising Americans to “carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before leaving the United States.” Firearms, ammunition (including stray bullets) and other weapons are not permitted in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms and ammunition laws.”

There is also more detailed information on the department’s Turks and Caicos webpage under the heading ‘Local laws and special circumstances’.

Travelers can find critical information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for each destination here.

CNN’s Michael Rios, Tanika Gray and Forrest Brown contributed to this report.