By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday ordered the biological father of a Native American girl known as Baby Veronica extradited to South Carolina to face felony charges of interfering with the custody of a South Carolina couple who adopted her.
Fallin said she signed the extradition order after the biological father, Dusten Brown, failed to negotiate in good faith with the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, over the fate of the 3-year-old girl.
"As a mother, I believe it is in the best interests of Veronica to help end this controversy and find her a permanent home," Fallin said.
Earlier on Wednesday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called on the Oklahoma Supreme Court to order the girl returned to the Capobiancos. Haley had requested Brown's extradition to South Carolina last month.
"This matter should come to an end, now," Haley said in a document prepared for the Oklahoma high court and given to Reuters by the governor's office.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court last week issued an emergency stay, putting off the girl's transfer from her biological father, despite other court rulings ordering him to give her up to the Capobiancos.
"Under the laws of South Carolina and Oklahoma, the minor child should be immediately returned to the Capobiancos' physical custody and care," Haley said.
ATTEMPT AT MEDIATION
The case has highlighted overlapping parental claims in two states, and the clash between a Native American culture seeking to protect children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents.
The situation became so emotionally wrenching that Haley and Fallin spoke by phone last month and tried to get the two families to work out a custody deal outside the courts. No agreement has been reached.
Haley's court appeal and Fallin's extradition order on Wednesday shows that politicians are being drawn into the legal dispute.
Haley said Brown, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, is "criminally withholding" Veronica from her adoptive parents in defiance of the courts.
"Mr. Brown does not intend to comply with any order of the Oklahoma state courts in this matter," Haley's filing said.
Fallin said in her statement that Brown "is not acting in good faith," disobeying an Oklahoma court order to allow the Capobiancos to visit their adopted daughter.
Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos before the girl was born. Veronica lived with them after her birth in 2009. Brown intervened in 2010 before the adoption process was final, and a South Carolina family court ordered that Veronica be turned over to Brown in December 2011.
Brown has said that when he gave up parental rights to the girl's birth mother, to whom he was not married, he did not realize she would put the child up for adoption. He argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica, who is 3/256th Cherokee.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling and decided the act did not apply in Veronica's situation. The adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in South Carolina in July.
Veronica has been staying with relatives on Cherokee tribal land in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation courts have also been involved in the custody battle.
A gag order has been placed on the parties involved in the case.
(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.; Editing by Greg McCune, Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)
- Family & Relationships
- Society & Culture
- Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin
- South Carolina
- Oklahoma Supreme Court