WASHINGTON (AP) — WNBA star Brittney Griner tried to call her wife nearly a dozen times through the U.S. Embassy in Russia on the couple’s fourth anniversary Saturday, but they never connected because the phone line The embassy office was unstaffed, Cherelle Griner said Monday. .
The couple have not spoken on the phone in the four months since Griner’s arrest in Russia on drug-related charges. That was to change on Saturday, when a long-awaited call would finally come. But the day came and went without any contact, leaving a distraught Cherelle Griner wondering what went wrong and suspecting at least initially that Russian authorities had foiled the call.
On Monday, he said he learned a more disturbing truth from his wife’s lawyers: Brittney Griner had actually tried to call 11 times over a period of several hours, dialing a number given to her at the US embassy in Moscow. , that the couple had told her they would then turn the call over to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix. But each time, the call went unanswered because the embassy desk where the phone rang was apparently unstaffed on Saturday.
“I was distraught. I was injured. She was fed up, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press in an interview, recounting how she mourned an anniversary she had been looking forward to. “I’m pretty sure I texted the BG agent and said, ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’ll take me a minute to gather my emotions and tell everyone that I’m not available right now. Because he just knocked me out. I wasn’t okay, I’m still not okay.”
The experience has further exacerbated already simmering frustrations about the US government’s response to his wife’s case. US officials have repeatedly said they are working behind the scenes to get the two-time Olympian home from Russia and make her case a priority. But Cherelle Griner said she remains “very angry” about the issue, especially since the call was scheduled for two weeks and yet no one warned her during that time that it might be logistically impossible due to the weekend.
The State Department said Monday that it was aware of the problem and was investigating it. Cherelle Griner said a contact in the US government apologized to her for her mistake. She said she has since learned that the one number Brittney Griner was told to dial normally processes inmate calls Monday through Friday, but not on weekends.
“But watch out,” Cherelle Griner said in the interview, “this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks, with an appointment for the weekend.”
He added: “I find it unacceptable and I have no confidence in our government at this time. If I can’t trust you to take a call on Saturdays outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on behalf of my wife to get back home? Because that’s a much bigger request than taking a Saturday call.”
Cherelle Griner said she was still hoping to speak or meet with President Joe Biden, but “right now it’s starting to feel like no.”
Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Russian airport on February 17 after authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
In May, the State Department designated her as wrongfully detained, shifting her case to the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s top hostage negotiator. The Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that her detention had been extended until July 3.
Until now, Cherelle Griner says she has had to rely solely on others’ assessments of her wife’s condition. Lawyers and consular affairs officials have been able to speak with the basketball star, but his wife has not.
The night before the call, she went to sleep at 5 pm to be awake and alert at midnight for the anticipated call from Russia to Phoenix that never came.
“This was a great moment because this would have been the first time I could really tell if she’s okay,” Cherelle Griner said. “This would have been the first time for me to actually just hear her in real time and really know if she’s okay or know if she’s seconds away from being gone.”