Man faces 12-year prison sentence for accidentally taking ammunition into Turks and Caicos airport

Island surrounded by blue water

A man from Oklahoma is facing a 12-year prison sentence after officials in the Turks and Caicos Islands said he had ammunition in his carry-on luggage — a violation of local law.

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Ryan Watson is being held in the island territory. He and his wife, Valerie Watson, traveled to the area for Ryan Watson’s 40th birthday along with a couple of other friends who also were turning 40.

When the couple tried to fly home to Oklahoma City on April 12, airport security in Turks and Caicos said they found ammunition — four deer hunting rounds specifically — in a Ziploc bag in a carry-on, KOKI reported.

Ryan Watson said he forgot the rounds were in the bag after a deer hunting trip. Transportation Security Administration employees didn’t see the rounds when they left for their trip, the couple said, according to KOKI.

Initially, Valerie Watson said she thought something in her bag caused them to be detained.

“When you realize what it was, in the back of my mind, I was thinking it was me, and that I had too much liquid or my perfume bottle was too big or something,” she told KXAS. “And they showed us what it was, and immediately, my heart just sank and I had a pit in my stomach. We are in a foreign country, and I don’t know what their rules and laws are.”

She told KOCO that her husband usually keeps his ammunition with his firearm.

“Typically, he keeps his ammo with his rifle case. So maybe it was an afterthought. He threw it in, and it was obviously lost in there,” Valerie Watson told KOCO. “It was a terrible, terrible, terrible mistake we were unaware of. Had no idea it was in there.”

Both Ryan Watson and his wife were detained and released. They had to appear in court on April 22, where charges against Valerie Watson were dropped. Ryan Watson, however, was charged with possession of ammunition and taken to jail. He made bail, but he has not been allowed to leave Turks and Caicos.

His next hearing is on June 7.

The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas issued a travel alert last year telling travelers not to bring ammunition into the country, Fox News reported.

A person from Indiana was sentenced to eight months behind bars for possessing ammunition, prompting the alert from the embassy in September, KXAS reported.

The agency issued a reminder on Wednesday, writing:

“Carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing from the United States. Firearms, ammunition (including stray bullets), and other weapons are not permitted in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms-and-ammunition-related laws. The penalty for traveling to TCI with a firearm, ammunition, or other weapon can result in a minimum custodial sentence of twelve (12) years.”

Embassy officials said that while you may declare to an airline that a weapon is in your luggage, that does not permit you to bring a weapon into Turks and Caicos.

“If you bring a firearm or ammunition into TCI, even inadvertently, we will not be able to secure your release from custody,” the embassy said. “You are subject to TCI laws and must follow local law enforcement procedures.”

Despite not being able to secure a person’s release, if you are arrested or detained you’re told to ask authorities to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Ryan Watson’s family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover their legal costs and other necessities. They have set a goal of $250,000.

Valerie Watson told KXAS that two U.S. senators and the governor of Oklahoma are writing “good character” letters on her husband’s behalf.

The TSA is also investigating how the ammunition was missed when the couple went through security in Oklahoma.

“TSA is conducting a review at OKC, which was the originating airport,” TSA said in a statement to KOKO. “We are aware of an incident in Turks and Caicos involving a U.S. citizen and refer you to law enforcement authorities in Turks and Caicos for more information.”

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