Florida secretary of state, lawmakers go on island mission to free Orlando woman, 4 others

florida secretary of state, lawmakers go on island mission to free orlando woman, 4 others

View of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Sept. 19, 2022.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd and several U.S. lawmakers tried but failed this week to get Turks and Caicos Islands authorities to free an Orlando woman and four other Americans facing 12 years in prison for allegedly possessing ammunition.

Despite their efforts, the delegation was “not able to find a path forward,” U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said.

Sharitta Shinise Grier, 45, was arrested after ammunition was found during a May 13 search at the islands’ international airport, according to the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force.

In an interview with NBC Boston, Grier said two rounds of ammunition fell under the flap of her carry-on bag. She told the television station she’s a store manager who had used the bag to carry a gun for self-protection.

“They took the bottom of the flap out of the bag,” she said. “That’s where the two rounds was in the bottom of that flap. So, it’s no way that I would of knew or seen them in there.”

Grier has been granted $15,000 bail, and her next court hearing is set for July 5, according to a report in the Turks and Caicos’ Sun newspaper.

U.S. officials have urged the British territory for mercy, saying American tourists who had no intention of breaking the law are facing severe prison sentences over just a few bullets.

In a social media post, Byrd wrote that he joined the delegation Sunday and Monday, which met with Turks and Caicos government officials.

“My first mission was to verify the safety and welfare of Ms. Grier and the other Americans on the island,” Byrd said. “Second was to determine how we can expedite their release and prevent this from happening to other Americans in the future. I appreciate the efforts of all involved.”

Along with Mullin, other lawmakers on the trip included U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, of Pennsylvania, Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Michael Cloud of Texas and Bob Good of Virginia. They represent the four other states where the people who have been detained live.

A representative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in The Bahamas accompanied the lawmakers.

The delegation met with the British-appointed governor of the Turks and Caicos, Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam, and other top Turks and Caicos officials.

“The governor and the premier confirmed — as per the constitutional separation of the executive and judicial branches — they cannot intervene nor comment on ongoing legal cases before the courts,” a government statement read. “They explained that the Turks and Caicos Islands have clear laws prohibiting the possession of firearms and/or ammunition and strict penalties are in place to serve and protect all who reside and visit the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The British territory tightened its firearm laws in 2022 in an effort to curb gun violence. Courts can exercise sentencing discretion in “exceptional circumstances” to impose a custodial sentence of less than 12 years and a fine that is “fair and just in the circumstances of each case,” according to the Turks and Caicos government’s Communications Directorate.

That means violators may not get the 12-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but they likely wouldn’t be able to just pay a fine and return to the United States, either.

The other Americans facing charges are Michael Lee Evans, 72, of Texas; Bryan Hagerich, of Pennsylvania; Ryan Tyler Watson, of Oklahoma; and Tyler Scott Wenrich, 31, of Virginia.

In addition to the latest delegation, the governors of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia sent a joint letter seeking leniency. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida met with Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, and advocated for Grier and the other Americans to be released.

The U.S. government has urged Americans traveling to the Turks and Caicos to carefully check their bags for “stray ammunition or forgotten weapons.”

“TSA screening in the United States may not identify ammunition in your baggage; it is your responsibility to ensure your baggage is free of ammunition and/or firearms,” an advisory from the U.S. Embassy in The Bahamas states.

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©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Visit at orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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