Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd among those working to free Americans detained in Turks & Caicos

'I'm being torn away from my kids, my grandkids, my family,' Sharitta Grier says
Posted at 11:52 PM, May 22, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — "The punishment certainly does not fit the crime," that's what Florida's secretary of state said as he and federal lawmakers continue working to free several Americans detained in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands.

One of them is a Florida resident, Orlando grandmother Sharitta Grier. She was arrested last week by TCI authorities who, allegedly, found two bullets in Grier's carry-on bag as she was departing. It was a surprise to her, but a crime in the British territory, punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

"I'm being torn away from my kids, my grandkids, my family," Grier told ABC News. "I'm broken. I'm not broken into pieces, but I'm broken."

Grier is one of at least four Americans currently being held for similar offenses. They're now the focus of a bipartisan effort by state and federal officials to get them home.

"The Americans that have been caught up in it we're not the people that the law was targeted, which was for people involved in gang crimes in the Turks and Caicos," Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said Wednesday.

At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Byrd was tapped to join a delegation of federal lawmakers and others who spent the weekend visiting with Turks and Caicos government officials. The group has been trying to secure the release of the Americans through negotiations with the territory's governor and attorney general for a quick release with minimal penalty, but meeting resistance.

"They said, this is a matter for the courts," Byrd said. "We really can't get involved. We can't pressure on them, but we certainly made our voices heard. ... Anything more than time-served would be unacceptable to us. They need to tell their judiciary to expedite these cases as quickly and judiciously as possible because the punishment certainly does not fit the crime in this circumstance."

For now, most of the Americans, including Grier, have bonded out of jail. Some are staying together at an Airbnb, Byrd said, waiting to find out the next steps.

They could hinge, in part, on a sentencing hearing for one of the Americans, Bryan Hagerich, on Friday. Byrd said if he's granted time served and released, American officials will better know how to move forward with negotiations.

"None of them have been forgotten," the Florida secretary said. "This is getting all the attention at the highest levels of, not only the state Government, but the Federal Government to ensure their expeditious release."

In the past, Byrd said tourists making this mistake have been handed a warning, maybe a fine. He's hopeful prosecutors abroad will recognize that.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has posted alerts for anyone traveling to Turks and Caicos to check their luggage for loose ammunition to avoid this very problem.