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U.S. tourist jailed in Turks and Caicos on ammunition charges is freed

Pennsylvania man still will have to pay $6,700 fine

By Ehren Wynder

May 24 (UPI) -- An American tourist who was facing up to 12 years in jail in Turks and Caicos for having 20 rounds of ammunition in his luggage was released Friday.

Bryan Hagerich of Pennsylvania was one of five Americans facing ammunition charges in the British territory. He was arrested in February while vacationing with his wife and two children.

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Hagerich pleaded guilty to possessing 20 rifle rounds, which were found in his checked bag by Turks and Caicos authorities. He spent eight nights in jail but was released on bail.

At his sentencing hearing, Judge Tanya Lobban Jackson of the nation's Supreme Court sentenced him to 52 weeks suspended, which means he will not serve any jail time. He will have to pay a $6,700 fine.

Jackson said Hagerich's case had "exceptional circumstances" and cited the impact his arrest had on his daughter and the fact that he had no prior criminal history.

Hagerich said the rounds were used for hunting, and he didn't know he had them in his travel bag.

Turks and Caicos recently passed legislation that forbids bringing unauthorized weapons and ammunition into the country. The charge carries a mandatory minimum 12-year sentence.

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In response to Hagerich's release, Turks and Caicos Prime Minister Charles Washington Misick said justice had been "served as the law intended."

"Today's decision reflects our commitment to judicial independence along with upholding the law," Misick said in a statement. "Residents and visitors can be confident that the Turks and Caicos Islands are dedicated to safety and compassion as we protect the safety and rights of all."

Misick also said the new punishment for unauthorized weapons and ammunition has never been imposed and could be overturned in "exceptional circumstances."

Three other Americans are still detained and awaiting trial in the Caribbean nation for similar charges.

A fifth person, Sharitta Grier, was arrested for having two rounds in her carry-on luggage earlier in May. The Florida grandmother was allowed to return to the United States for medical reasons. Her court appearance is scheduled for July.

The string of arrests caught the attention of American legislators, who visited Turks and Caicos this week in an attempt to bring the remaining people home.

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., in a statement thanked the judge for her leniency in Hagerich's case.

"When we met with TCI officials a few days ago, they made clear that they wanted this situation resolved," Fetterman said. "They recognized that Bryan and the other detained Americans are not gun-runners -- they are just people who made a mistake."

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Pennsylvania Republican Guy Reschenthaler, who represents Hagerich's district, said on X that he was "overjoyed" to see Hagerich returned to his family, but that "this terrifying situation should have never happened to him."

Before Friday's sentencing, Reschenthaler urged the State Department to issue a no-travel warning for Turks and Caicos.

The State Department has a Level 2 travel advisory for Turks and Caicos, which advises travelers to "exercise increased caution" and to "carefully check their luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons."

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