Lawmakers Discuss Next Move After Agreement With Turks And Caicos To Release 5 Americans Fails

Members of the Oklahoma congressional are considering possible next steps after a meeting with Turks and Caicos officials Monday failed to produce an agreement to release an Oklahoma man and four other Americans.

Tuesday, May 21st 2024, 5:33 pm

By: News 9, Alex Cameron


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Members of the Oklahoma congressional are considering possible next steps after a meeting with Turks and Caicos officials Monday failed to produce an agreement to release an Oklahoma man and four other Americans.

All are facing criminal prosecution and potentially 12 years in prison for allegedly violating the island nation’s strict law on possession of ammunition.

Senator Markwayne Mullin led a 6-member bipartisan delegation that included Oklahoma Congressman Josh Brecheen and went to Turks and Caicos Sunday to advocate for leniency..

"This does not require jail time," Senator Mullin (R-Okla.) said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The law prohibiting possession of guns and ammunition on the islands was passed in response to a spate of gang violence. Sen. Mullin says he certainly has no problem with Turks and Caicos determining how best to sure their people, but he says, "What’s happened, unintentionally, is tourists are being caught. And so, if you have one .22 bullet that’s loose in your bag that you had no idea was in there that’s a minimum of 12 years."

Mullin, Brecheen, and the delegation met with all five Americans being detained. Mullin says, between them. they had "less than 20 bullets and no one had a weapon."

In the case of Edmond's Ryan Watson, who traveled there with his wife, the vacation was over and they were trying to leave. But at the airport, security found four rounds of hunting ammunition in his carry-on. The ammo was missed by the TSA a week earlier at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. "It was my mistake, it was very innocent," Watson told CBS News last month after his wife was allowed to leave and return to Oklahoma. "And I just pray [for] compassion and consideration, 'cause there was zero criminal intent." 

The congressional delegation sat down with Turks and Caicos leaders Monday, hoping to find a mutually agreeable path forward, but Mullin says it didn't happen. "They were not willing to really move anywhere," Mullin explained, "and in fact it wasn’t a very cordial conversation."

Congressman Brecheen (R-Okla. 2) says he honeymooned in Turks and Caicos 15 years ago but told officials during the meeting that he would not go back, under the current circumstances. "I said, 'My message to my bride, to my wife is, we’re not coming back because I’m scared that a bullet sliding through the seam that I’ll never know about will get into a bag and I’m facing a 12-year minimum'," Brecheen recounted. "I said, 'With all due respect, the only way you’re going to change that narrative is you’re going to have to change the law.'"

Brecheen says he told island leaders, if they don't change the law, they risk scaring off American tourists in general, who account for the vast majority of the country's critically important tourism business. "We were straightforward, but we were diplomatic," Brecheen said. "We just let them know, you are a sovereign entity, you have the right to make your decisions, but America has the right to respond...and we gotta use every two in our toolbox."

For now, the delegation says it will do as asked and let the legal system play out. "They want us to wait and see what happens," Mullin said. "One month isn’t okay with me." In fact, Mullin said anything more than time served for any of the five would be "a problem."

It’s not clear which of the detainees will be sentenced first, but Mullin and Brecheen say, whoever it is, that first ruling will be a clear sign of where the rest are headed -- and whether they need to open up their 'toolbox.'

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