Togo trip takes frustrating turn
Casey McCoy remains in Lome, Togo in West Africa following a bizarre turn of events on Monday.
What initially began as a "He-said, They-said" COVID test result and McCoy being quarantined, has now developed into an arrest where he is now facing a possible fine and/or imprisonment.
McCoy, a 2007 Minneota graduate who now lives in Dell Rapids, SD, attended the wedding of his friend and boss, Tyler Grinder, in Lome, where Grinder's new bride is a native and wanted a traditional Togolese wedding.
As McCoy and his girlfriend, Lacie Packard, were set to fly back to the United States on Dec. 22 after each tested negative for COVID as required before boarding a plane, Casey was detained by police who claimed his passport numbers were mixed up and he had actually tested positive.
While McCoy insisted Packard return to the United States, he was quarantined in a run-down hotel with little water and food.
Tyler Grinder and his brother, Trevor, both stayed in Togo and rented a house in order to support Casey until he is able to go home.
Several days passed and after more tests, McCoy kept getting no answers to the test results. He was treated poorly by guards at the hotel, where several others from other countries were also being quarantined.
After nearly three weeks quarantined, McCoy was eagerly awaiting test results he took on Tuesday, Jan. 4. Nearly all of the others quarantined in the hotel with him were allowed to leave. He was not allowed to be released after being told his test result was not available, even though the others quarantined had all received their results.
McCoy had been working with the U.S. Embassy based a few miles away, but he was getting mixed signals from them, too.
"I hit a mental wall," McCoy said in an emotional voice. "I just thought that I can't be here another day. I emailed the U.S. Embassy and told them that I just can't be here anymore and I was losing faith in them. I just wanted to be home."McCoy then requested a moment to compose himself.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm a crier. I admit it. It's just been so difficult not knowing what is going on. I talked to Lacie and my parents and they helped build me back up."
When McCoy's exasperated message was received by the U.S. Embassy, they became concerned for his mental health and set up a meeting with Togolese officials
"I had tested negative on Day 9, and I waited the 10 days," McCoy said. "Yet, here I still am. They say my test was positive and it wasn't. I've checked all the boxes and they still keep me here."
The U.S. Embassy personnel, led by Chief Consulate Bryan Cox, his right-hand man (Daniel) and a regional supervisor (Bruno), met with Colonel Djibril Mohamane, second in command in Togo and also the head of the COVID response team there.
Colonel Mohamane then met with Togo doctors and, although they said McCoy still tested positive, they felt his body was not recovering as well as others that were quarantined because he was under more stress.
Colonel Mohamane then allowed McCoy to leave the hotel on Wednesday, Jan. 5 and move in with Tyler and Trevor Grinder to finish his quarantine in their rented home 10 miles away. But there would be armed guards stationed outside at all times.
Colonel Mohamane and the U.S. Embassy personnel then set up a meeting the next day with a doctor in order to hear McCoy's testimony on how his initial testing on Dec. 22 went before he was set to fly home.
At the meeting in the hotel lobby along with McCoy was the doctor, a police officer, and the three Embassy personnel.
"It was a 45-minute meeting and I only got to speak for two minutes to tell my account of the events," McCoy said. "The police officer took down some notes and the doctor kept getting calls and answering them the whole time. Everyone was speaking in French so I had no clue what was being said."
After the meeting, McCoy was placed in an ambulance and driven to Grinder's rented home with a police escort with lights and sirens engaged.
McCoy then took another nasal swab test on Friday, Jan. 7 and received a message from the Embassy personnel the next evening that the test was negative.
"I was so excited that I was finally going to get to go home," McCoy said.
McCoy and the Grinder brothers then went to be tested on Sunday in order to fly back to the U.S. on Monday.
McCoy was also told he must meet with the prosecutor on Monday morning to officially be released.
But the release never came. Instead, the prosecutor arrested McCoy for falsifying the original documents written in French that he had signed to go home on Dec. 22.
"I was being arrested for not being able to read French," McCoy said, again losing control of his emotions. "I couldn't have falsified any documents because it's absolutely impossible to alter the QR code for the test."
McCoy was then taken to the jailhouse and told to wait on a tiny bench. He watched as other prisoners were brought in and stripped to their underwear and put in 5' x 8' cells with no toilet.
"I was just shaking," he said. "I thought I was going to puke. I could never have made it in that jail."
After a four-hour wait, McCoy learned that the U.S. Embassy convinced the prosecutor to allow McCoy to be placed under house arrest with armed police again guarding outside.
"I have to pay the police to guard me, too," McCoy said.
McCoy faces a possible fine of anywhere from $200 to $5,000 in U.S. dollars and imprisonment of a few months, he was told.
McCoy got in touch with a top attorney in Togo that speaks English and he agreed to meet on Thursday, Jan. 13.
"I'll pay them all whatever they want," McCoy said. "I just want to go home."
When McCoy was taken to the jail, a police officer tried to remove the Rosary beads he was wearing around his neck, but McCoy resisted until another police officer intervened and allowed him to keep them on.
"Before I left home to go to Togo, I packed the beads for some reason," McCoy said. "Even my daughter (Ellie) wondered why I was bringing them."
McCoy then broke down as he revealed the history of the beads.
"They belonged to my grandma Kathy," he said while sobbing. "Now I know why I brought them. They are keeping me safe."