Cherokee girl's dad fights order in custody case
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The father of a Cherokee girl at the center of an adoption dispute appeared in court Thursday to fight an order from the Oklahoma governor that he return to South Carolina to face charges of parental interference.
Dusten Brown appeared before a judge in Sequoyah County Thursday morning after turning himself in to authorities and was later released on bond. Brown was charged last month with custodial interference out of South Carolina for failing to show up with the girl to a court-ordered meeting with the couple who adopted 3-year-old Veronica.
Brown has been fighting South Carolina couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco for custody of Veronica for years. The dispute has raised questions about jurisdictions, tribal sovereignty and a federal law meant to help keep Native American tribes together.
Brown had used the Indian Child Welfare Act to gain custody of the girl, but the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that the law couldn't be used in this case. A South Carolina judge subsequently ruled in favor of the Capobiancos. The girl is living in Oklahoma with Brown's family, and a court there ordered that the girl immediately be transferred to the Capobiancos.
That didn't happen because the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an emergency stay to keep the child with Brown. The court has not publicly disclosed an explanation for its decision.
Meanwhile, South Carolina issued an extradition order for Brown. The girl has been living with Brown's family in the Cherokee Nation, and the extradition order doesn't affect that.
Records in the custody case are sealed and family court hearings are typically held in private. Courts have also ordered all parties not to talk publicly about the case.
As far as the criminal case against Brown, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin had said she wouldn't sign the extradition order until after a court hearing in Sequoyah County next week. But on Wednesday, Fallin said Brown wasn't negotiating in good faith with the Capobiancos.
Brown's lawyers appealed the order, and Brown was released Thursday on his previous bond of $10,000, according to Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart. A new hearing date before District Judge Jeff Payton is set for Oct. 3.
Lockhart said he was surprised that Brown was allowed to be released and that he consulted with the governor's office to make sure it was OK.
"This is very unusual. I've never seen a governor's warrant work this way," Lockhart told The Associated Press.
Payton said after Thursday's hearing that Brown has a right to fight the extradition.
"We may have to send him back to South Carolina. That decision has not been made yet and he's got a right to a hearing — and for that matter, a constitutional right for a hearing. You can't just throw people in jail," he said.
The girl's birth mother, who is not Native American, was pregnant when she put the girl up for adoption. The Capobiancos had been lined up to receive custody of her since 2009. But Brown and his family claimed the Indian Child Welfare Act mandated that the child be raised within the Cherokee Nation, and he won custody when the girl was 2.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, reiterated Thursday the governor's belief that the dispute should not go on indefinitely, for the sake of the young girl.
Associated Press reporter Justin Juozapavicius contributed reporting from Sallisaw, Okla.
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