Cherokee child handed over to adoptive parents

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A South Carolina couple who vowed last month to not leave Okla­homa without the 4-year-old Cher­okee girl they have been trying to adopt since her birth were given custody of the girl Monday night after the Okla­homa Supreme Court said it didn’t have jurisdiction over the child.

Melanie Capobianco is seen with Veronica, whom she and her husband have long tried to adopt.  ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Melanie Capobianco is seen with Veronica, whom she and her husband have long tried to adopt.

“She’s safely in her parents’ arms,” said Jessica Munday, a spokeswoman for Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, S.C.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton confirmed that Veronica was handed over to the Capo­biancos hours after the Okla­homa high court dissolved a temporary order leaving the child with her father and his family. Until the transfer, the Cherokee Nation had insisted the girl would remain with the tribe.

The Capobiancos and the girl’s biological father, Dus­ten Brown, had fought over custody for years.

Veronica, whose biological father is a member of the Cher­o­kee Nation and whose biological mother is not Native American, had lived with the Capobiancos from birth until she was 27 months old, when Brown was awarded custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act. A U.S. Supreme Court decision later went against Brown, and a South Carolina court finalized the Capobiancos’ adoption earlier this year. Brown had then turned to Okla­homa’s courts.

It wasn’t known whether there were any conditions attached to the Capobiancos gaining custody, including whether Brown would be allowed to visit the girl. An attorney for Brown did not return calls.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree told the Tulsa World that Vero­nica’s transfer does not mean the custody fight is over.

“We will assess our legal options in the morning,” he told the newspaper.

He said the Cherokee Na­tion had been prepared to require that the issue be handled in tribal court, but that Brown decided it was in Veronica’s best interests to proceed with a “peaceful and respectful transfer.”

Munday was not sure when Capobinacos planned to return to South Carolina, but she felt they were now free to do that at any time. She said Veronica has spent some time with the couple recently and did remember them.

“It was smooth. There wasn’t any danger. … Hope­fully everyone can focus on healing now,” said Mun­day, a friend of the family.

When the Oklahoma justices bowed out, it left in place a South Carolina court order validating the Capobiancos’ adoption and a Cherokee Nation tribal court directive that said the girl could remain with family members of Brown while he was undergoing National Guard training.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court had halted the girl’s transfer to the Capobiancos while it considered the case. The court did not explain its decision to lift its stay Monday.

After the girl’s transfer to the Capobiancos, the National Indian Child Welfare Association put out a statement saying it was saddened by the events.

“The legal system has failed this child and American Indians as well. Our prayers are with everyone concerned, but most of all with Veronica,” said Terry Cross, the group’s executive director.

Veronica’s birth mother was pregnant when she put the girl up for adoption, and the Capobiancos took custody of Veronica shortly after birth.

Brown and his family claim the Indian Child Welfare Act mandates that the child be raised within the Cherokee Nation. The law was passed in 1978 with the intent of reducing the high rates of Native American children being adopted by non-Native American families.

A South Carolina court cited the law when awarding Veronica to Brown in 2011, but the U.S. Supreme Court this year said the law did not apply because he had been absent from the child’s life.

Brown also is facing extradition to South Carolina to face a charge of custodial interference for refusing to hand over the girl.


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