The family of an American teenager currently in jail in the Cayman Islands for flouting the Caribbean nation's strict Covid-19 quarantine requirement is speaking out in an effort to get her home.
On December 15, Skylar Mack, 18, of Loganville, Georgia, was sentenced to four months in prison for removing her geo-tracking bracelet and breaking her mandatory 14-day quarantine after two days in order to go watch her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, a professional jet ski racer from the Cayman Islands, compete in an event. Mack was detained at the scene by police, who told the Cayman Compass that she was at the event for seven hours and did not wear a mask or practice social distancing.
Ramgeet was also sentenced to four months in prison for aiding and abetting his girlfriend, and both pled guilty to their offenses.
Now, Mack’s family is looking to the U.S. government for help getting the teen out of prison and back on American soil.
"She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that, but she's pretty hysterical right now,” Jeanne Mack, Skylar’s grandmother, told TODAY in an on-screen interview on Monday, adding, "She cries. She wants to come home.”
According to TODAY, Jeanne has written a letter to President Trump asking for his assistance.
A White House spokesman had no comment.
A State Department spokesman tells PEOPLE they are “aware of reports of the detention of a U.S. citizen in the Cayman Islands” but declined to comment further, citing privacy.
Speaking generally, however, the spokesman said the department "takes seriously its responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad” and “when a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the Department works to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”
State Department assistance includes facilitating communication with the citizen’s family and others as well as monitoring the case for “a fair and transparent legal process” as well as “humane treatment,” the spokesman said.
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"It's not like her to make this kind of a mistake," Jeanne continued of Skylar, who is a pre-med student at Mercer University. "She knows she screwed up. She knows she should have to pay for it."
However, Jeanne expressed that she believes that the Cayman Islands government is making an example of her granddaughter. "We're not asking for her to get an exception. We're asking for her not to be the exception,” she said.
Skylar, who had intended to return to the U.S. on December 22, and Ramgeet were both originally sentenced to a $2,600 fine and 40 hours of community service each, but the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Patrick Moran, decided to appeal that sentence because he did not think it fit the crime.
“These offenses should have been met with far more stringent measures,” Moran said while appearing before the Grand Court on December 14. “When it comes to a matter of deterrence, the sentences imposed are likely to have little to no effect on other like-minded individuals.”
“There is nothing exceptional about either defendant that should have warranted the sentence imposed by the lower court,” Moran said.
Attorney Jonathan Hughes, who is representing both Mack and Ramgeet, told the court that he believes the current sentence is too harsh, and that both have already paid a significant price for their actions, according to the Compass.
“There is no way that it can be right that a custodial sentence is imposed for a first-time offense on an 18-year-old defendant, who entered an early guilty plea,” said Hughes, noting that he believes his clients’ mistakes were due to “youthful ignorance and selfishness.”
“Ms. Mack has paid her fine in full from her savings, which resulted in a significant portion of her funds being depleted,” he continued. “She has received hate mail, so far as to say even death threats. This has even impacted her father, who is also a professional jet-ski rider and has now lost sponsorship because of it.”
Hughes will be arguing for a lesser sentence for his clients on Tuesday, before the country’s court of appeals.
"This particular sentence would have a particularly harsh effect on [Skylar], and the court ought to have considered the individual before it, not just the crime," Hughes told TODAY on Monday.
Ramgeet, for his part, was stripped of his victory at the jet ski event, and was made to return his prize money and trophy. He was also required to write a formal apology to the Cayman Islands Watercraft Association, and will not be allowed to compete in the first few races of 2021.
According to the Compass, the country passed stricter Covid-19 suppression regulations on November 28 — the day after Skylar arrived in the country, and the day before she broke her quarantine.
Prior to the 28th, quarantine violators could face up to a year in prison and/or a fine of $1,000. The stricter regulations mean violators can face up to two years in prison, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020, the Cayman Islands Government has prioritized the safety of its residents and their protection from the global COVID-19 pandemic. To accomplish this goal the Government employed stringent isolation and social distancing policies,” the Cayman Islands Government told PEOPLE in a statement on Wednesday.
“Anyone wishing to enter the islands is required to quarantine in an approved facility, or at residence using monitoring technology . . . Breaches of quarantine may result in prosecution and penalties of up to $10,000 KYD [approximately $12,195 USD] and two years’ imprisonment,” the statement says.
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