'Temper justice with mercy' Gov. Shapiro ask Turks and Caicos to send US residents home

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has joined two other governors in an attempt to bring home U.S. citizens charged with carrying ammunition into Turks and Caicos Islands while there on vacations.

The governors have written a letter to the head of the popular Caribbean tourist destination and asked for "justice tempered with mercy" for the three men.

The men detained in the British overseas territory, one from Somerset County who was charged in February and tourists from Oklahoma and Virginia who were charged April, face a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison for what all three have said "was an honest mistake."

Bryan Hagerich, of Somerset County, is awaiting sentencing in Turks and Caicos Islands.
Bryan Hagerich, of Somerset County, is awaiting sentencing in Turks and Caicos Islands.

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Now, according to published reports, a few days ago another American was detained in Turks and Caicos Islands on the same charge.

The charges are the results of an amended 2022 law that states any ammunition and/or guns are illegal to bring into Turks and Caicos Islands. Those found guilty could be sentenced to a dozen years in prison, the islands' mandatory minimum sentence for the crime. However, the judge has the discretion to reduce the time in prison depending on circumstances and has done so since the amended law was passed.

The Pennsylvanian, Bryan Hagerich, the first American charged in 2024 based on this law, will also be the first American tourist sentenced this year. His sentencing is scheduled for May 29. Ryan Watson, of Oklahoma, and Tyler Wenrich, of Virginia, are still waiting for trials and sentencing dates.

'Boneheaded mistake': American found with ammo in luggage on Turks and Caicos faces 12 years

Shapiro, along with governors Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, wrote a letter to Turks and Caicos Islands Gov. Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam regarding the arrests of their citizens.

In the May 15 letter, the three governors asked Daniel-Selvaratnam to reconsider the charges and expedite their constituents' release so they can return home to their families and friends in the United States.

Hagerich said he had used his suitcase while on a hunting trip and when packing for vacation overlooked ammunition still in his bag.

When the vacation spot's exit terminal did a random check of the suitcases, Hagerich's was chosen and searched and he was arrested on the spot. His wife and children then returned to Somerset County.

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State Reps. Carl Walker Metzgar and Guy Reschenthaler have been pushing to bring Hagerich home, according to state Sen. Pat Stefano. Stefano, of Bedford, R-32nd Dist., said he is concerned and keeping track of the situation, but because it is a federal case he is limited in what he can do.

Who is Bryan Hagerich?

Hagerich is a father and husband and longtime resident of Somerset County.

He graduated from Somerset Area High School in 2003.

"He was my brother's friend in high school," said Christine Neilan of Somerset. "I was just praying for him in church. Everybody wants to bring him home.

"He is really a nice guy in a bad position right now," she said.

He is the senior vice president of operations at Affinity Health Services Inc., owner of Patriot Manor in Somerset Borough among others. Before joining Affinity Health Services, Hagerich served as the executive director within multiple senior living communities.

A graduate of the Leading Age Pennsylvania Fellows in Leadership Program, a distinguished honor within the nonprofit senior living industry, according to Affinity website, Hagerich has been licensed as a nursing home administrator in the state since 2011.

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The three governors' letter

"Like thousands of Americans each year, these individuals traveled to your beautiful territory recently for leisure. They have all maintained they did not intend to bring ammunition into Turks and Caicos and any ammunition unknowingly left in their luggage was the result of a lawful conduct in the United States," the letter signed by the governors reads.

The governors pointed out there were no firearms involved.

"We humbly ask that your government – in its wisdom – temper justice with mercy and recognize that these men made mistakes but had no apparent malicious intent."

By a swift reconsideration of the charges and release of the men to allow them to return to their homes and waiting families, the governors wrote, "This action will create the necessary recognition of your laws that would impact the future actions of travelers and continue our mutual interest in justice and goodwill between our jurisdiction."

This article originally appeared on The Daily American: US governors: Release of US citizens held in Turks and Caicos