Native American Baby Veronica

Native American Baby Veronica
What happens when a father who at first didn’t want his child, changes his mind? What happens if the father is Native American and a non-Native American couple adopt the child?
This is the long court battle for Native American baby Veronica Brown.
Native American Baby Veronica

Dustin Brown’s decision

In April 2009: Veronica’s birth parents’ relationship ended because the Dustin Brown, the birth father and partially a Cherokee Indian, abandoned his parental responsibilities and was unwilling to financially support Christy Maldonado, the mother of his unborn child.
May 2009: Christy continued providing updates to birth father about pregnancy. Phone records show no response from birth father.
Native American Baby Veronica

Christy Maldonado’s decision

June 2009: Christy decided adoption was best for her unborn child. She was already struggling financially as a single mother of two children and knew it would be even more difficult to provide for a third child without help from the birth father.  Brown responded that he would to sign away his rights.
July 2009: Christy selected Matt and Melanie Capobiancos to raise her child. Christy felt a connection with them and continues to work double shifts to make ends meet for her and her two children. She had not seen Brown in months.
Native American Baby Veronica

Adoptive relationship

August 2009: Melanie and Christy begin speaking weekly. Melanie flew to Oklahoma to visit Christy.  Christy and the Capobiancos filed paperwork is with agencies and attorneys.

Dusten’s first name was misspelled (“Dustin”), but Christy brought it to their attention. Dusten was inadvertently spelled Dustin. Christy is unaware of birth father’s exact birth date.

Native American Baby Veronica

Later Key Points

  1. Maldonado provided her attorney with father’s correctly spelled name and location and what she believed to be his date of birth.
  2. her attorney forwarded this information to Cherokee Nation in a letter dated August 21, 2009. She testified she knew father’s birthday was in October and that he was older than she was, so Father’s year of birth was sometime before 1982.
  3. During oral arguments at SC Supreme Court hearing, Cherokee Nation acknowledge only 8 members (out of 316,000+) have the same first and last name as birth father using both “i” and “e.”
Native American Baby Veronica

Baby Veronica adopted

Sept. 15, 2009:Veronica is born; Matt and Melanie Capobianco bring her to their James Island, South Carolina home shortly afterward.
Brown was located after numerous attempts and served papers allowing the adoption to be finalized. He signed and acknowledged to Christy that he signed.
Native American Baby Veronica

Adoption challenged

On January 14, 2010, Brown filed for paternity and custody. He did not indicate that Veronica or himself were Native American.
February 2010: Brown overseas with the Army.
April 2010: Brown amended  paperwork to reflect that he and Veronica have Native American blood.
Native American Baby Veronica

Cherokee Nation intervenes

May 2010: Paternity results come back and confirm Brown is Veronica’s biological father. Veronica is now 8 months old.
Native American Baby Veronica

Oklahoma > South Carolina

July 2010: Oklahoma dismissed Brown’s challenge, but the case was transferred to South Carolina. Veronica 10 months old.
December 2010: Brown returned to Oklahoma. He made no attempts to contact Christy, Matt, Melanie, or 15-month-old Veronica.
Native American Baby Veronica

Indian Welfare Act

July 2011: South Carolina sets family court date and declares that the Indian Child Welfare Act applied to Veronica’s case. The Act is a 1978 Federal law that governs jurisdiction over the removal of Native American children from their families.
Family court is held on September 12-16. Christy testified on behalf of the Capobiancos.
November 2011: A South Carolina family court judge ruled in Brown’s favor and an appellate court agreed.
Native American Baby Veronica

Veronica Brown

December 31, 2011: Brown brings Veronica to Oklahoma.
January 2012:  the Capobiancos appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
February 2012: South Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear case. It was the state Supreme Court’s first time weighing in on a case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act.
A number of mental health and child welfare professionals from around the country issue a letter stating their opposition to the transfer of Veronica to Dusten, particularly the abruptness of the move–“When secure attachment is severed, a child may become embroiled in a variety of negative responses, including distress, anger, rage, fear, shame, and humiliation.”
Native American Baby Veronica

In Brown’s Favor

July 2012: the South Carolina Supreme Court  ruled  3- 2 that the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act favored the biological father of the girl.
It stated: “We do not take lightly the grave interests at stake in this case. However, we are constrained by the law and convinced by the facts that the transfer of custody to Father was required under the law. Adoptive Couple are ideal parents who have exhibited the ability to provide a loving family environment for Baby Girl. Thus, it is with a heavy heart that we affirm the family court order.”
Native American Baby Veronica

Supreme Court Appeal

October 2012: Attorneys for Matt and Melanie submitted petition to the United States Supreme Court on October 1.
January 5, 2013: The United States Supreme Court announced acceptance of Veronica’s Indian Child Welfare Act Adoption Case. Details can be found on the SCOTUS Blog.
April 15, 2013: The U.S. Supreme Court heard the Capobiancos’ appeal
Native American Baby Veronica

Supreme Court decision

June 25, 2013: in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a Minor Child Under the Age of FourteenYears,the US Supreme Court decided  5 – 4 that a Native American child did not have to be taken away from her adoptive parents and given to her biological father. That decision simply allowed for the possibility of the Capobiancos adopting Veronica.

Native American Baby Veronica

Back to South Carolina

July 17, 2013: in a 3-2 decision the South Carolina Supreme Court awarded custody of Veronica Brown to Matt and Melanie Capobianco and ordered the lower family court to finalize the adoption.

Native American Baby Veronica

More intervention

Native American Baby Veronica

July 22, 2013:  three of largest Native American organizations prepared to intervene.

At a press conference, representatives from the National Congress of American Indians, the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association announced plans to file a civil rights lawsuit if the South Carolina Supreme Court did not reconsider its decision to terminate Cherokee Nation citizen Dusten Brown’s parental rights without a “best interest” custody hearing.

July 31, 2013: the three Native American organizations filed a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of the now three-year-old Veronica.

The complaint argued that, “As a matter of law, the actions of the state courts of South Carolina have deprived the plaintiff (Veronica) of a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the matter of her current best interests before being transferred from her father to an adoptive couple.”

Native American Baby Veronica

Native American Support

More than 40 tribes, attorneys general, scholars and organizations signed a letter in support of the lawsuit, including the Inter-tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, of which Veronica and Dusten Brown’s tribe, the Cherokee Nation, were a member.

Through a spokeswoman, the council released the following statement: “A severe injustice has been committed to an innocent Cherokee child and her loving family in Oklahoma. The Brown family, including Veronica, deserves their due process. They do not deserve to have their lives forever transformed by the South Carolina judicial system without cause or consideration. Indian children being removed from their families and homes is not a new story in Indian Country. Those dark days have reared their head again sadly in South Carolina. We will stand with Veronica, the Browns, and national tribal organizations fighting for fairness and justice.”

Veronica Brown continued to live with Dusten.

Native American Baby Veronica

August 2013

August 1, 2013: The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene.
The week of August 4, 2013: Veronica’s transition was scheduled, but Brown never showed up. A family court judge ordered her immediate handover.
  • August 6 – Judge Martin issued an enforcement order for Brown to immediately transfer Veronica back to her lawful parents and asked for assistance from law enforcement if needed.
  • August 11 – Matt and Melanie Capobianco held a press conference in Charleston asking for help locating their daughter.
  • August 12 – SC Governor Nikki Haley signs extradition warrant for Brown. “Gov. Haley has been working with law enforcement and the solicitor’s office to issue a requisition warrant today,” said spokesman Doug Mayer. “She stands in support of the Capobiancos and shares their desire to bring Veronica home safely.”
  • August 13 – Brown turned himself into authorities in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.
  • August 13 – Matt and Melanie left for Oklahoma.
  • August 14 – a press conference held at the Hyatt Regency in Tulsa. Immediately following the press conference, OK Governor Mary Fallin released a statement asking Brown to let Matt and Melanie see Veronica.
  • August 15 – Matt and Melanie determined that the Cherokee Nation was hiding Veronica on tribal land and requested a writ of habeaus corpus in Cherokee County, Oklahoma.
  • August 16 – Court hearing held in Cherokee County. Mediation is ordered and a gag order put in place.
  • August 30 – Nowata County, Oklahoma recognized Veronica’s adoption. Biological father appeals to Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Native American Baby Veronica

Oklahoma Supreme Court

August 30, 2013: the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted an emergency stay to keep Veronica with Dusten Brown and planned to hear arguments from his lawyers and those of the girl’s adoptive parents.

  • Sept. 4 – Governor Mary Fallin signed extradition warrant.
  • Sept. 5 – Dusten Brown turned in himself and he is released on bail.
  • Sept. 12 – Oklahoma Supreme Court assigned case to court of civil appeals.
  • Sept. 16 – Mediation hearings begin in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Native American Baby Veronica

Veronica Capobianco

September 23, 2013: after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it would not intervene, Veronica, now 4-years-old, handed over to Matt and Melanie Capobianco

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton confirmed the announcement via social media: “It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm Veronica Brown was peacefully handed over to Matt and Melanie Capobianco (this) evening,” she tweeted. “Updates will be forthcoming, but the transition was handled peacefully and with dignity by all parties. Please keep Veronica in your prayers.”

Native American Baby Veronica

Statement from Capobiancos

Nearly 21 months ago, we vowed to do everything legally possible to reunite our family. While we are overjoyed to bring Veronica home, we sympathize with the Brown family during this difficult time. Despite our differences, and everything that has happened over the last several months, we all love Veronica and want what is best for her. We are grateful that the visits we’ve enjoyed with our daughter allowed us to reconnect as a family and ease her transition home. We are all doing well and our focus now is on healing and getting our life back to normal. While we recognize there are many who have taken a strong interest in Veronica’s case, we ask for privacy during this precious time with our daughter. We are eternally grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of prayers and support for our family.

Native American Baby Veronica

Dusten Brown ends fight

October 10, 2013: Brown said he and the Cherokee Nation were dropping the legal fight to regain custody.

I know we did everything in our power to keep Veronica home with her family,” Brown said in Oklahoma. “Veronica is only 4 years old, but her entire life has been lived in front of the media and the entire world. I cannot bear for [it to continue] any longer…. I love her too much to continue to have her in the spotlight. It is not fair for her to be in front of media at all times,” he said. “It was the love for my daughter that finally gave me the strength to accept things that are beyond my control.”

Native American Baby Veronica

Bitter aftermath

November 26, 2013: Matt and Melanie Capobianco filed a motion to collect more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees from Brown and his tribe. Court documents filed by the Cherokee Nation state it would be “inappropriate, unreasonable and unconscionable” for the adopted parents of a 4-year-old Cherokee girl to seek the legal fees.

The Capobiancos dropped the suit in January 2016.

Native American Baby Veronica
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