Ryan Watson is on His Way Home

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File

Ryan Watson is on his way home tonight. Watson is an American tourist who was charged with bringing ammo to Turks and Caicos.  

He was arrested on April 12. The married father of two from Oklahoma remained on the island, waiting for his day in court. Today was that day. He called it the "most surreal experience" of his life.


On April 12, he was at Howard Hamilton International Airport, returning home after a trip to Turks and Caicos to celebrate several friends' 40th birthdays with his wife. Instead of boarding his flight out, he was arrested when four rounds of ammunition were found in his carry-on bag. 

He faced a mandatory 12-year minimum sentence. 

Recently, the Turks and Caicos government approved a bill that amended a section of their firearms ordinance. It clarifies that the court has more discretion in sentencing people convicted of violating the law, citing "exceptional circumstances." Before the amended ordinance, the law allowed discretion for a lesser prison sentence than the 12-year mandatory minimum but it still required the court to impose a prison sentence and fine. Now the court has the "widest possible breadth of discretion." It can impose a fine, sentence, or both. 

Watson is a hunter and claimed the bullets in his bag were an oversight. He didn't have a gun in his bag. He chalked it up to a mistake. 

The weird thing is that he is one of five Americans who have been arrested there because of ammunition in their bags. After Watson's release, there are still two Americans waiting to learn their fate.

Since his arrest, two other American tourists who were also charged and detained on the islands after inadvertently traveling with ammunition have been able to return home. Last month, Tyler Wenrich was sentenced to time served and fined $9,000, while Bryan Hagerich was sentenced to a suspended 52-week sentence with a fine of $6,700. The court found there to be "exceptional circumstances" in their cases that made a mandatory 12-year prison sentence unjust and disproportionate to the crime committed.


Watson was given a suspended sentence of 13 weeks in prison and a $2,000 fine. 

The arrests of the five Americans in recent weeks drew the attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Those with constituents being detained got involved and went to the island on their behalf

Back in May, Congressman Brecheen attended a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation (CODEL) to Turks and Caicos (TCI) where the members met with TCI government officials to discuss the five Americans being detained on the islands. 

Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) led the CODEL and also in attendance was Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Michael Cloud (R-TX), and Bob Good (R-VA). 

Today Congressman Brecheen issued a statement

β€œI am glad to see that Ryan Watson will finally be allowed to return home to his family, but this whole fiasco should have never happened in the first place,” said Congressman Josh Brecheen. β€œThe threat of a twelve-year prison sentence for accidentally leaving a few bullets in your bag is not justice. Thankfully, Turks and Caicos have now repealed this draconian law. No American should ever again have to go through what Ryan Watson and the four other detainees had to go through for making a simple mistake.”


Double-check your bags when you are packing. Refresh yourself with the laws of the places you travel to outside of the United States. 

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