Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow-area airport after security allegedly found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her carry-on bag as she tried to enter the country (Griner is one of several WNBA players who plays in Russia during the off-season). The decision to declare Griner “wrongfully detained” means the U.S. government will now take a more active role in trying to negotiate and secure her release, rather than letting Griner go through the Russian criminal justice system.
In a statement shared with Rolling Stone, a State Department spokesperson said, “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. The U.S. government will continue to provide appropriate consular support to Ms. Griner and her family.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement, “Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home.”
On top of the re-classification of her case, a source close to Griner told ESPN that former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, has agreed to work on her case. Richardson has also worked as a hostage and prisoner negotiator and recently helped secure the release of Trevor Reed, a former Marine who was arrested in Russia in 2019 after an altercation with police and sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020. A rep for Richardson did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Up until now, the efforts to aid Griner have largely played out behind the scenes: The U.S. government specifically advised Griner’s family, team, and supporters to maintain a low profile, lest a media firestorm allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn Griner into an even bigger bargaining chip at a moment when relations between the U.S. and Russia are already heavily strained over the war in Ukraine. The new decision to consider Griner “wrongfully detained,” however, will likely allow Griner’s family and supporters, as well as members of Congress, to speak more openly about her case and push for her release.
Griner still has not been formally charged since her arrest in February. She reportedly has a court hearing scheduled for May 19.