US officials: Brittney Griner considered wrongly detained

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has determined that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongly detained in Russia, meaning the United States will work more aggressively to secure her release even as the trial against her is pending, two US officials said Tuesday.

Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Since then, US officials had stopped classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and instead said their focus was on making sure she had access to US consular affairs officials while incarcerated.

Now, however, US officials have moved oversight of her case to a branch of the State Department — the office of the Presidential Special Envoy to Hostage Affairs — that focuses on negotiations over the release of hostages and other Americans classified as unlawfully held. in other countries .

“Brittney is in jail for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House will do whatever it takes to get her home,” said Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.

WNBA Players’ Union President Nneka Ogwumikenoted in a separate statement that “it’s been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia.”

“It’s time for her to come home,” Ogwumike added. “Having learned that the US government has now determined that BG is being wrongly detained, we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, rapid and successful.”

It was unclear what prompted the shift in approach to Griner’s case, though President Joe Biden’s administration came under pressure from members of Congress and others to make her release a priority.

US secured release of Navy veteran Trevor Reed last week as part of a prisoner swap that also led to a convicted Russian drug trafficker being released from prison in the US

Next to Griner is Paul Whelan. another American wrongfully held in Russiaa Michigan corporate security executive who was arrested in December 2018 while visiting a friend’s wedding and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on spy-related charges his family believes are bogus.

ESPN first reported the rating in Griner’s case. Two US officials confirmed it on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss it by name.

Meanwhile, the WNBA announced Tuesday it would honor Griner with a floor sticker and let the Mercury pay her without counting toward the team’s cap. The decal features Griner’s initials, BG, and her number 42.

All 12 teams will have the crest on their home turf, starting with the season opener on Friday night. The Mercury open their season at home that night against the Las Vegas Aces.

Associated Press writer Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this report.

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