U.S.

Oklahoma court: 'Baby Veronica' to live with adoptive parents

Four-year-old Cherokee girl to be transferred from biological father, stirring controversy over tribal sovereignty laws

Baby Veronica, left, and Melanie and Matt Capobianco, her adoptive parents, in June.
L. to R.: Courtesy Melanie Capobianco/AP; Harriet McLeod/Reuters

A four-year-old Cherokee girl known as "Baby Veronica" is with her South Carolina adoptive parents Monday, after a fierce custody battle that raised questions about tribal sovereignty and a federal law meant to help keep Native American tribes together.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court Monday dissolved a temporary order leaving the child with her biological father, Dustin Brown, a member of the Cherokee nation who had fought the adoption.

"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 Supreme Court lifted the stay. Until the Monday night transfer, the Cherokee Nation had insisted the girl would remain with the tribe.

The ruling removed a legal roadblock to an earlier court order in August that she be sent back to South Carolina. But lawyers for the Cherokee Nation said Monday the court's ruling should not override a Cherokee Nation District Court order that allows Veronica to remain on tribal trust land, where she and Brown have been living since July.

Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, said, "We are a sovereign nation with a valid and historic court system."

The pair were moved off Brown's property and onto the tribe's land to protect them from media and other public exposure at Brown's home, which is not on tribal lands, said Clinton.

Attorneys for both sides are not allowed to talk to the media. Documents have been sealed, preventing the release of further details.

Indian Child Welfare Act

The adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina, have been in Oklahoma for the past month and have been allowed to visit Veronica, who lived with them for the first two years of her life, Munday said.

The ruling does not affect an extradition order Brown currently faces on charges of custodial interference in South Carolina after refusing to hand over Veronica earlier this summer, after the Capobiancos' adoption of her was finalized.

He has a hearing on that extradition order set for Oct. 3.

Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos before the girl was born. Brown has argued he did not know the mother would give her up for adoption when he signed away his parental rights.

Brown, who was not married to the birth mother, argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica, who is 3/256th Cherokee. A South Carolina family court agreed with him and he took custody of her in 2011.

But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that ruling and decided the act did not apply. Her adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in July, but Brown refused to turn her over.

Wire services

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