US tourist fined $2,000 for bringing ammunition to Turks and Caicos

Ryan Watson in a cowboy hat

Ryan Watson, an American tourist arrested in Turks and Caicos Islands, will avoid further jail time for bringing ammunition into the country.

He was instead ordered to a pay a $2,000 ( £1,500) fine - $500 for each of the four bullets found in his luggage - his spokesperson, Jonathan Franks, said on social media.

A recent law that bans bringing ammunition to the Turks and Caicos, a popular tourist destination, can carry a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison.

But Mr Franks said on social media that the judge overseeing the case believed a lengthy sentence would be arbitrary after Mr Watson's guilty plea.

"We will make payment shortly, depart [Turks and Caicos Islands] and anticipate being home in [Oklahoma City] tonight," Franks said Friday.

Five Americans have been detained in Turks and Caicos in recent months after officials found ammunition in their luggage.

Mr Watson, who claims he did not know he had the hunting ammo in his bag, is the third American in recent months to receive a suspended prison sentence and fine for the offence.

A resident of Oklahoma and father of two, Mr Watson was detained on 12 April when airport officials found the four rounds of hunting ammunition in his carry-on luggage. He and his wife, Valerie Watson, were attempting to leave the islands following a vacation.

Mrs Watson was allowed to return to the US, but her husband was jailed until he paid a $15,000 bond. He has remained on the islands since the ammunition was found, as he has faced ongoing legal proceedings.

In April, Mr Watson told CBS News, BBC's American news partner, he did not intend to break any of the islands' laws and he regretted the situation.

"There was zero intent behind this and this was 100% a mistake and an accident," he said.

Turks and Caicos passed an amendment that mandated a 12-year minimum sentence for bringing ammunition to the island at the end of 2022.

It passed after a "marked increase" in homicides in 2020 and 2021 that were associated with "international crime, gangs, the availability of firearms, and drug dealing and trafficking", according to the UK government.

As of Friday, no US citizen has received the mandatory minimum sentence for that offence.

Last month, Tyler Wenrich, another American tourist arrested in Turks and Caicos Islands, avoided further jail time for bringing ammunition into the country. He was ordered to a pay a $9,000 ( £7,040) fine instead.

In February, officials in Turks and Caicos found 20 rifle rounds in the checked bag of Bryan Hagerich, a US tourist from Pennsylvania. Last month, he was fined $6,700 (£5,245) and given a one-year suspended sentence.

He returned home after the verdict.

A fourth American was allowed to return home last month for unspecified medical reasons.

The fifth American facing the same fate, Sharitta Grier of Florida, will see her day in court in July after officials allegedly found two bullets in her carry-on bag.