Oklahoma Man Arrested for Ammo Possession on Turks and Caicos Avoids Jail, Heads Home

Rachel Acenas
By Rachel Acenas
June 21, 2024US News
Oklahoma Man Arrested for Ammo Possession on Turks and Caicos Avoids Jail, Heads Home
A beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, on Sept. 25, 2016. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

An American who was arrested on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) earlier this year for having ammunition in his luggage has avoided jail time.

Oklahoma resident Ryan Watson, 40, was sentenced to time served and given a $2,000 fine, his spokesperson confirmed in a statement on Friday.

“13 weeks imprisonment suspended for nine months, $2000 fine / $500 per bullet. We will make payment shortly, depart TCI and anticipate being home in OKC tonight,” spokesman Jonathan Franks wrote in a post on X.

“I’m going to pay this fine, go home and see those kids,” Mr. Watson told reporters outside the courthouse following the sentencing.

“So happy the judge took a holistic approach. It was nerve wracking, still, knowing that the prosecution was still pursuing a 12-year sentence,” he added.

Justice Lobban Jackson said a 12-year sentence would be “arbitrary” and disproportionately harsh in his case. The judge also considered testimony from more than a dozen character witnesses who supported Mr. Watson.

Mr. Watson traveled to Turks and Caicos to celebrate his 40th birthday with family and friends in April. He was arrested after a search of his duffel bag at the airport revealed a plastic bag containing four rounds of ammunition. The Oklahoma resident told authorities that he accidentally left the ammunition in his bag from a previous deer hunting trip.

According to their firearms law, it is illegal to possess ammunition in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The law allowed for a mandatory 12-year sentence unless exceptional circumstances were found.

A total of five Americans have been arrested in Turks and Caicos since December 2023 on suspicion of bringing ammunition into the British territory. Their arrests garnered attention in the United States, and prompted calls by members of Congress for the islands to show more leniency toward Americans.

The government subsequently reconsidered the mandatory minimum sentence for firearms offenses. The TCI House of Assembly then voted on June 14 to approve an amendment allowing judges more discretion in sentencing when they find exceptional circumstances.

Premier C. Washington Misick said in a statement prior to the amendment that the mandatory minimum sentence had never been imposed by the courts.

“Judges are permitted to use their discretion in sentencing individuals who have been convicted of violating our Firearms law,” the premier stated.

“In fact, in cases that occurred prior to the five cases that have generated media coverage, the mandatory 12-year minimum sentence has never been imposed by the Court because judges determined in each case that exceptional circumstances warranted shorter sentences,” the statement continued.

Amid the arrests of the five Americans, several U.S. lawmakers publicly pushed the TCI government to release them.

“Finally, Ryan Watson is free and on his way home to Oklahoma,” U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) wrote in a statement on X.

“Our bipartisan [congressional delegation] has led to the release of three of four Americans detained at the time of our trip, with one more to go,” the senator wrote on Friday.

Americans Bryan Hagerich and Tyler Wenirch were arrested under similar circumstances, and also avoided any additional prison time.

Two other cases involving U.S. citizens are still active. Florida resident Sharitta Grier has yet to enter a plea in her case. The case of Texas resident Michael Lee Evans is also still pending. He was allowed to return to the United States for medical reasons while he is out on bail.

TCI hosts more than one million visitors every year, more than half of whom are Americans.