US Tourists Face 12 Years in Prison for Ammo in Luggage

Ryan Watson, Bryan Hagerich say they were unaware of hunting rounds left in their bags
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2024 7:46 AM CDT
US Tourists Face 12 Years in Prison for Ammo in Luggage
   (Getty Images / speedrealmphotography)

An Oklahoma man who spent a long weekend in Turks and Caicos celebrating his 40th birthday hasn't left the British Overseas Territory some three weeks later, after ammunition was found in his luggage. In 2022, Turks and Caicos amended a law, allowing a mandatory minimum 12-year prison sentence for possession of weapons or ammunition. Ryan Watson had no idea. He and his wife, Valerie, were preparing for their return flight when Ryan's carry-on bag was flagged by security. Inside was a Ziploc bag containing four bullets, per CBS News. "They were hunting ammunition rounds that I use for white-tailed deer," Watson told NBC News ahead of his initial court appearance. The bullets were from a previous hunting trip and "I had no idea they were in there."

"This is such an innocent mistake," Valerie tells NBC. But "this is gonna ruin us." Both were initially charged with possession of ammunition, though charges against Valerie were later dropped. She returned home to their two young children in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, more than two weeks after she departed, but without her husband. Ryan is still trying to process his situation. "I can't even begin to think that this very innocent, regrettable mistake would prevent me from being able to watch my son graduate or teach him to shave or take my daughter to dances," he tells CBS. In September, the US Embassy in the Bahamas issued a travel alert, urging Americans to "carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons" before heading to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).

"If you bring a firearm or ammunition into TCI, we will not be able to secure your release from custody," the alert read. It came after Michael Grim of Indiana was found to have been accidentally carrying ammunition in the country. A judge determined there were "exceptional circumstances" and he served just six months in prison, per CBS. There were "some hostile actors in the prison," "no clean running water," and "you're kind of exposed to the environment 24/7" so "mosquitoes and tropical illnesses are a real concern," he tells CBS. In February, ammo was discovered in a bag another US tourist, Pennsylvania's Bryan Hagerich, often took on hunting trips. He, like Watson, is still awaiting trial in Turks and Caicos. (More Turks and Caicos Islands stories.)

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