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Families claim Americans ‘wrongfully’ detained in Turks and Caicos for possession of ammunition | the Caribbean

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The families of four Americans charged in Turks and Caicos on charges of transporting munitions insisted Thursday that their loved ones had been “wrongfully” detained on the island pending legal proceedings.

Last week, the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands confirmed it had charged four American men with 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 to serve and protect the community.”

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

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

After a major jump in gun violence and arms trafficking in Turks and Caicos, the government significantly tightened gun laws in 2022. Breaking the law could result in a minimum prison sentence of 12 years, although the government said this could be reduced in “exceptional cases”. circumstances.”

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

Turks and Caicos Islands said in its statement that it is “travellers’ responsibility to ensure that their luggage is free of” weapons and ammunition, which is “strictly prohibited” without prior approval. ATF also warns that it is the traveler’s “responsibility to research local laws.”

The families appealed for help paying mounting legal fees and living expenses, and had raised more than $220,000 as of Friday.

Authorities and the postal service say the men have been released on bail, but the families claim Hagerich has been “wrongfully detained in Turkey for 81 days now.” Others have been stuck on the island for weeks awaiting legal proceedings, separated from their children and families.

“They face a legal system that is unfamiliar, intimidating and expensive and that operates differently than the American legal system,” the message said.

On Thursday, Jessica Byrd, a fundraising campaign organizer and Watson’s older sister, said Hagerich, who pleaded guilty to possessing 20 rounds of rifle ammunition, would stand trial Friday. She added that he would likely be sentenced the same day or next week.

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