HOUSTON — A Moscow court has extended the arrest of WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner until May 19, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges. They were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the U.S. citizen Griner until May 19,” the court said, according to Tass.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above is from an earlier report of a booking photo being released of Griner.
The United States embassy in Moscow did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The 31-year-old Griner, one of the most recognizable players in women’s basketball, has won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S., a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury and a national championship at Baylor. She is a seven-time All-Star.
The WNBA season opens May 6.
Griner has played in Russia for the last seven years in the winter, earning over $1 million per season — more than quadruple her WNBA salary. She last played for her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg on Jan. 29 before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments. She was arrested in Moscow upon returning to Russia.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined a growing contingent of family, friends and officials calling for the player’s release with a “Free Brittney” tweet Wednesday.
The booking photo shows Griner holding up a piece of paper. It's not clear where she was when the photo was taken.
A Change.org petition has been started to have the Houston native returned home safely. As of March 17, it has more than 63,000 signatures.
It’s unclear how much progress was being made in the case because Griner’s group has been trying to work quietly for her release and declining to talk publicly since her arrest was made public earlier this month.
“Everyone’s getting the strategy of say less and push more privately behind the scenes," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. ”It’s the strategy you get from the State Department and administration. It’s our No. 1 priority in talking with her agent and strategists.”
The U.S. State Department has been “doing everything we can to support Brittney Griner to support her family, and to work with them to do everything we can, to see that she is treated appropriately and to seek her release,” spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday at a briefing.
Griner was one of a dozen WNBA players who played in Russia or Ukraine this past season. All except Griner have left since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Griner's high school coach shared her thoughts with KHOU 11's Anayeli Ruiz.
Richard Stoll, Albert Thomas professor of political science at Rice University, weighed in on whether public demands for Griner’s release really make a difference.
“Probably not, but they might as well try,” Stoll said.
Because the arrest happened in February, Stoll doesn't think it initially had anything to do with the current geopolitical climate.
“I think that all happened independent of foreign policy,” Stoll said. “Now, it’s tangled up because of what’s happening in the Ukraine.”