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home : features : latest news April 29, 2016

9/11/2013 10:17:00 AM
Oklahoma governor orders extradition of Brown to South Carolina
Katherine Locke

The fight over an American Indian child continues as the governor of Oklahoma ordered the girl's father, Dusten Brown, extradited to South Carolina where he has been charged with custodial interference.

The little girl, Veronica Brown, who will turn four in September, is at the heart of a case between her biological father, Brown, a Cherokee, her birth mother who put her up for adoption and the South Carolina couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who were present at her birth and who have recently, with the help of the South Carolina courts, adopted her.

Veronica's father was estranged from Christinna Maldonado, at the time of Veronica's birth. He never had custody of Veronica before the South Carolina court, after 18 months of her life with the Capobiancos, ordered her transfer to Brown citing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Brown had contested the adoption under the ICWA and won his case in trial court and on appeal with the state supreme court. However, he lost his case with the United States Supreme Court when a majority of the justices said the ICWA didn't apply. When the case was returned to the South Carolina courts, the state court finalized Veronica's adoption in July and ordered her transfer to the Capobiancos.

In Oklahoma, Brown's mother and father, the child's Cherokee grandparents, and Brown's wife have all sought to adopt Veronica in an Oklahoma state court to ensure she remains with a Cherokee family.

The Cherokee tribe granted joint legal custody to Brown's parents and his wife.

Governor Mary Fallin signed the extradition order on Sept 4. She said her goal had been to encourage both Brown and the Capobianco family to reach a quick settlement and come to an agreement that protected Veronica's best interests. She explained she had been willing to delay the extradition while it seemed both parties were working together in good faith, which she defined as 'both Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family should be able to see Veronica, both parties should continue to pursue a resolution outside of court and both parties must obey the courts and the rule of law.'

But in signing the extradition order, Fallin made clear she believes that Brown had not been acting in good faith and that she had no choice but to order his extradition to South Carolina.

"He has disobeyed an Oklahoma court order to allow the Capobiancos to visit their adopted daughter and continues to deny visitation," Fallin said. "He is acting in open violation of both Oklahoma and South Carolina courts, which have granted custody of Veronica to the Capobiancos. Finally, he has cut off negotiations with the Capobiancos and shown no interest in pursuing any other course than yet another lengthy legal battle."

In a surprise move after the governor's action, an Oklahoma court released Brown on bail before the extradition order was executed. A hearing is set for Oct. 3 in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, a lower court in Oklahoma has ordered the custody transfer to take place from Veronica's father to the Capobiancos but the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay of that decision while they review the case.

Brown and the Capobiancos entered into a mediation agreement Aug. 16 after hearings took place with both sets of parents. The judge ordered a gag order and asked that all parties refrain from commenting on the case.

Brown was arrested in Oklahoma on Aug. 12 and charged with "custodial interference" when he refused to obey the court order in South Carolina and hand over his daughter to the Capobiancos. This is the action for which the governor is now trying to extradite Brown.

On July 24, Veronica's birth mother, Maldonado, sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder saying that parts of ICWA are unconstitutional. She said the law considers race as a determining factor for whom a child should live with and therefore violates the equal protection clause. Many Native Americans and Native American organizations across the nation fear the move because it calls into question the validity of ICWA and other federal laws that relate to Native Americans because inherently many use race as a determining factor.

The U.S. government enacted ICWA in 1978 because of the high number of Indian children public and private agencies removed from their Indian homes. The act gives relatives of the children and the tribes a say in what happens to Indian children. The act was designed to preserve Indian culture and heritage.

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