Skylar Mack, an 18-year-old woman from Georgia, is facing a four-month prison sentence in the Cayman Islands for violating the territory's COVID-19 quarantine protocols for visitors.
Mack's family appealed to President Donald Trump for help. On Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that officials are "aware of reports of the detention of a US citizen in the Cayman Islands" but had no further comment due to privacy considerations.
Mack flew to Grand Cayman on Nov. 27 to visit her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, a 24-year-old resident who was participating in a Jet Ski competition, their attorney, Jonathon Hughes, told BuzzFeed News. She tested negative for COVID-19 on arrival, according to a Cayman Islands Government press release.
As per the Caribbean nation's regulations, Mack was required to self-isolate for 14 days at a residential address upon her arrival. She was fitted with a geofencing wristband and issued a cellphone to monitor her movements during the isolation period, Hughes said. She also signed a document that forbade her from removing her wristband and leaving her residence during the 14-day period.
But two days after she arrived, Mack removed her geofencing bracelet and left her residence to watch Ramgeet compete at the crowded Jet Ski event.
She also interacted with people at the event for more than seven hours, the Cayman Compass reported. Police were called after event organizers were notified that she was in breach of her isolation requirements. She was not wearing a mask or her wristband, police said.
Hughes said that when questioned, Mack accepted she had violated the regulations by leaving her residence without permission. She and Ramgeet were then transported to a government quarantine facility.
On Dec. 4, Mack was charged with leaving her home during the mandatory 14-day quarantine, and Ramgeet was charged with aiding and abetting her.
They both pleaded guilty to the charges later that day, and they were each sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a $2,600 fine.
However, the country's public prosecutor said their sentences were "unduly lenient" and appealed to the Grand Court to impose prison sentences for the couple.
"These offenses should have been met with far more stringent measures,” the Cayman Islands director of public prosecutions, Patrick Moran, said during the appeal hearing last week. "When it comes to a matter of deterrence, the sentence imposed [is] likely to have little to no effect on other like-minded individuals."
Hughes argued that a prison sentence was too harsh for a first-time offense by an 18-year-old who had already pleaded guilty. He also said that Mack had lost a significant portion of her savings by paying the full fine and that she had received hate mail and death threats.
Ramgeet was also stripped of his prize money and award at the Jet Ski event, and he was banned from riding in the first few races of the next season, the Compass reported.
Grand Court Justice Roger Chapple sentenced Mack and Ramgeet to four months in prison, saying that the couple's actions were "borne of selfishness and arrogance," the Cayman Compass reported.
Chapple also said that Mack's actions were "entirely deliberate and planned, as evidenced by her desire to switch her wristband the day before to a looser one that she was then able to remove." He added that Ramgeet, as a local, should have known better, having endured lockdown. The two were taken into custody immediately after the hearing.
The couple was the first to be sentenced under the territory's stricter COVID-19 regulations that were put into place a day before Mack arrived on the island. The revised penalties for violating the 14-day quarantine requirement include a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to $10,000. As of Friday, the country had reported a total of 311 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths since the pandemic began.
The country is also investigating several other cases of breaches in quarantine protocol, the Compass reported.
To date, more than 1,000 travelers have been approved by the Cayman Islands government to quarantine at a residence and "the vast majority" have complied and completed their quarantine without incident, the government said in a press release.
In an apology letter submitted as part of her sentence, Mack said she made "the biggest mistake" of her life by breaching the island's protocols and had "abused" the opportunity she was given to enter the country "during these trying times."
"My actions spoke of nothing but complete disrespect by disobeying my quarantine rules," she wrote in the letter provided to the Caymanian Times. "I am aware that the Cayman Islands Government has done nothing but dedicate extreme caution to combat the spread of Covid-19, for this the country and its citizens can be extremely proud; I made a mistake, and words cannot express how sorry I am for this."
Mack has been crying and is "pretty hysterical," her grandmother, Jeanne Mack, told the Today show.
"She cries. She wants to come home," Jeanne said. "She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that, but she's pretty hysterical right now."
Her grandmother wrote a letter to Trump pleading for his help, the Today show reported.
"We're not asking for her to get an exception," Jeanne said. "We're asking for her not to be the exception."
While declining to comment on Mack's case, the State Department spokesperson said that it works to provide all consular assistance when a US citizen is detained overseas, ensuring that they have a fair and transparent legal process and that they are receiving humane treatment.
Hughes will now appeal to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal to reduce Mack's and Ramgeet's sentences during a hearing on Tuesday morning.
"I don't know why someone is taking it so personal or [has] such a vendetta toward my daughter or toward an American 18-year-old girl who was there on a vacation and who made a mistake," her father, Dennis Mack, who is a professional Jet Skier, told CBS 46 News. "It’s absolutely heart-wrenching that you take someone so special. … The rest of her life is getting torn away from her."