Mullin Returns from Leading Bipartisan CODEL to Turks and Caicos, Pushes for Release of Five Detained Americans

On Monday evening, U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) returned from leading a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation (CODEL) to Turks and Caicos (TCI) where the members met with TCI government officials to discuss the five Americans being detained on the islands for inadvertently having ammunition in their luggage. If convicted, the Americans could each face a twelve-year minimum prison sentence. 

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Josh Brecheen (R-OK), Michael Cloud (R-TX), and Bob Good (R-VA) joined Sen. Mullin on the CODEL. During the trip, the delegation met with TCI’s Governor, Deputy Governor, Attorney General, Premier, Minister of Tourism, Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, as well as a representative from the foreign ministry.

“We went in respectful of their sovereignty, and with an open mind looking to find common ground,” said Senator Mullin. “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 today. At this point, well-intentioned American citizens are facing a dozen years in prison all for unknowingly having one or two bullets in their luggage. The unintended consequences of TCI’s law have been at the expense of well-intentioned American tourists, including a grandmother, who had no intention of breaking the law. We will stay at the table through this process until the issue is resolved. With two hearings on the docket this week, I remain hopeful. Should they receive a prison sentence, we will need to consider additional actions to safeguard American citizens.” 

“After working tirelessly for Bryan Hagerich’s release with Turks and Caicos officials, it is resoundingly clear that the nation — which relies heavily on the support of U.S. tourists — lacks the willingness to work in good faith to ensure his safe return home,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “This is a recurring theme for our nation under President Biden, where tourists become captives and foreign nations no longer respect us. No American should travel to Turks and Caicos until Bryan is released and the islands can ensure that any future U.S. tourists will not have to experience this ridiculous ordeal during their innocent vacations.”

“Our comments to Turks and Caicos officials were diplomatic, but also to the point,”said Rep. Brecheen. “I reiterated that with Turks and Caicos’ economy being 65 percent based on tourism, and with 80 percent of that coming from the United States, it is in their interest to ensure justice prevails. We were emphatic that it would be unfathomable for five Americans, including Oklahoma’s own Ryan Watson, to face 12 years in prison for accidentally leaving a handful of shells in their luggage. I shared my position with the Attorney General and the Premier (lead legislative official) that a modification of their law seems to be the only way to reverse the message of fear their actions have instilled in U.S. tourists and that there must be just outcomes with the pending cases. With sentences for the five Americans to be announced in the days ahead, we shall see whether justice prevails. If not, America must respond appropriately, using every economic tool in our toolbox.” 

“This past weekend, I met with my constituent, Tyler Wenrich, and other Americans who are currently being detained in Turks and Caicos after ammunition was allegedly found in their luggage,” said Rep. Good. “My colleagues and I are very concerned about consequences of recent legal changes that have already resulted in multiple American tourists being arrested, charged, and threatened with lengthy prison sentences for accidental and non-threatening offenses. We had a productive visit with Turks and Caicos government officials and business leaders who understand the economic impact of U.S. visitors to their islands, and we hope it will result in positive outcomes as Tyler’s next hearing is tomorrow. As his congressman, I will continue to do everything in my power to see him reunited with his family in Virginia.”

Background: One of the Americans trapped in TCI, Ryan Tyler Watson, of Oklahoma, traveled to Turks and Caicos with his wife and other couples on a 40th birthday trip. As Watson and his wife were leaving the island in April, TCI airport security reportedly found four rounds of ammunition which had been unknowingly left in a duffel bag from a previous deer hunting expedition. While Watson’s wife was released and allowed to return to Oklahoma, Ryan is awaiting his hearing in June. The Turks and Caicos government has identified the four other detained Americans as: Michael Lee Evans, 72, of Texas; Bryan Hagerich, of Pennsylvania; Tyler Scott Wenrich, 31, of Virginia; and Sharitta Shanise Grier, 45, of Orlando, Florida.