Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner arrested in Russia with vape cartridges, multiple reports say

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Posted at 8:30 AM, Mar 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-05 20:19:20-05

Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner was reportedly arrested in Russia last month after she was found with vaping cartridges.

Griner was reportedly arrested in February when officials found "vape cartridges in her carry-on luggage at a Moscow airport," The New York Post said, citing Russian news sources. The cartridges reportedly contained cannabis oil, those reports said.

Video from the Russian Federal Customs Service allegedly shows what appears to be Griner getting her bag searched at the airport in Russia. ABC News has verified the video.

In Phoenix, sports fans told ABC15 they were worried about Griner's safety.

Quintin Lewis said the potential 10-year sentence seemed overboard.

"Are they using her as a pawn for what's happening in a global war," he asked, rhetorically. "What's really happening?"

Lewis' wife, Rebecca, expressed similar concerns. She said she hopes the White House intervenes.

"And I say be as defensive as administration as Brittney is on the court and win," she said.

A report from The New York Times states Griner was taken into custody during the investigation and "a criminal case has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia."

Benjamin Taylor, a local attorney, told ABC15 that traveling through an airport with cannabis is illegal in the United States.

"If you're at the airport and you posses any sort of illegal drugs, you can be charged with possession. You can be charged with trafficking the drugs or transportation of the drugs across state line," Taylor said.

However, according to Taylor, she might have received some leniency if the crime had occurred in Arizona.

"Even though it's illegal federally, the prosecutor who is prosecuting you could give you a plea deal or even dismiss the case because of the state laws make it legal versus the federeal laws making it illegal," he said.

Griner's arrest comes as Russians continue to attack Ukraine.

A professor at Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies told ABC15 that may make getting Grier back difficult.

"Well obviously it's very concerning," said Dr. Vector Peskin, and ASU professor and senior research fellow at the UC Berkeley Human Rights enter.

"Certainly now, we are at the most time in American-Russian relations since some say the Cuban Missile Crisis," he added.

Statements regarding Griner's arrest

The U.S. Department of State says it is "aware of reports of a U.S. citizen arrested in Moscow" and "(stands) ready to provide all appropriate consular services." Meanwhile, The Department of State issued a travel advisory Saturday saying, "U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately."

It was not immediately clear whether Griner still remains under Russian custody and no information was available on her current whereabouts. The Mercury says their main concern is "her safe return home."

“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA," the Mercury said in a statement Saturday morning. "We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

Similarly, the WNBA says, “Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”

Griner is listed on the player roster for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a basketball team in the women's Euroleague. The New York Post says Griner has been playing with the team during the WNBA off-season for several years.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner's agent, said: “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

Mercury teammate Brianna Turner tweeted Saturday, saying "At a loss for words, but I know it will work itself out."

Cherelle Griner, Brittney's wife, posted on Instagram Saturday saying, "Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife's safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes from during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely."