foreign interests

U.S. Botched Brittney Griner’s First Chance to Speak to Wife in 4 Months

Photo: Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

A planned phone call between WNBA all-star Brittney Griner and her wife on their fourth anniversary — the first opportunity for the couple to speak by phone in the more than four months since Griner was detained by Russian authorities — didn’t happen because of an apparent screwup by the U.S. embassy in Russia. Griner attempted to call her wife through the embassy 11 times over several hours Saturday, but none of the calls went through because the embassy desk responsible for patching the call wasn’t staffed over the weekend, Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press on Monday. The call had been scheduled for almost two weeks, and no one had informed her that doing it on the weekend might be problem, she said, explaining that she was distraught when the call never came — and is now “very pissed” after finding out why two days later from Griner’s lawyers. Per the AP’s inital report:

The State Department said Monday that it was aware of the issue and was looking into it. Cherelle Griner said a contact in the U.S. government had apologized to her for the error. She said she’s since learned that the one number Brittney Griner had been told to dial typically processes calls from prisoners on Mondays through Fridays but not weekends.

The State Department later said in a statement, “We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.”

The botched call is but the latest distressing development in Griner’s ordeal. The two-time Olympian was arrested and detained on February 17 after Russian authorities claimed they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her bag and accused her of drug smuggling. Her detention wasn’t acknowledged until a month later, and initially, Griner’s family and the U.S. seemed to be trying to keep her situation on the down-low while attempts were made to secure her release. Those and later more-public efforts haven’t worked. Last month, the State Department officially reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” and last week, a Russian court reportedly extended her detention for a third time until at least July 2. Thus far, the only people whom she has been able to speak with since she was detained have been her lawyers and consular-affairs officials.

The athlete’s loved ones have grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. response, the AP reports, and Cherelle Griner said this latest incident has shattered her confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to help. “I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now,” she said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”

More on Brittney Griner's detention

See All
U.S. Botched Brittney Griner’s First Chance to Speak to Wife