The U.S. State Department has determined that Russia wrongfully detained American basketball player Brittney Griner, a department spokesperson said in a statement. The seven-time WNBA All-Star has been detained since February for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil.
Russia detained Griner as tensions escalated between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but U.S. officials had not previously determined that she was wrongfully detained.
The United States has complained that Russia does not grant regular access to Americans detained there, although consular access to Griner was granted and a consular officer visited her on Mar. 23, the spokesperson said.
“The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” the statement said. Griner’s case was now being handled by Roger Carstens, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, the spokesperson said.
Griner has not been formally charged, but she is scheduled to have a hearing May 19. The fact that the U.S. government now considers Griner to be a wrongful detainee does not mean Russia will change its official stance on her detainment, but it does mean that the U.S. considers the legal proceedings to be irrelevant to her case.
The WNBA on Tuesday said it will honor Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s salary cap. The decal will feature Griner’s initials along with her number, 42. All 12 teams will have the decal on their home courts starting with the season opener May 6. The Mercury open their season at home May 6 against the Las Vegas Aces.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”