Birth mother: Veronica's 'best interests' are with Capobiancos

The Capobiancos with Veronica prior to her removal from their home. (Source: Jessica Munday)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - The Cherokee Nation on Monday filed a petition for a rehearing in the Veronica adoption case, asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to reconsider the July 17 order.

That order urged the family court to finalize Veronica's adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

"It is very troubling that the South Carolina Supreme Court would move to terminate the parental rights of a man who has proven to be nothing but a fit and loving father, without even holding a hearing to determine what is in his own child's best interests," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. "What is best for Veronica has not even been considered by the court. We pray the South Carolina Supreme Court grants our request for a due process hearing to determine what is in this child's best interests."

The petition focuses on facts the Cherokee Nation says were missing from the court's ruling and did not take into account Veronica's best interests.

On July 17, the Cherokee Nation reportedly granted a guardianship order for Veronica, giving full legal custody to her stepmother, paternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.

Custody of Veronica was granted to family members because Dusten Brown, Veronica's birth father, was deployed in National Guard training.

"Dusten Brown is an Iraq combat veteran who has fought as tirelessly for his child as he did for our country. That fight began the day he learned of the birth mother's plans to place his child for adoption and continues today. Since regaining custody, he has created a loving, safe and nurturing environment for Veronica," said Chrissi Ross-Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. "This temporary guardianship order is just another step Dusten has taken to ensure his daughter is always well cared for should something happen to him as he is serving his country during this mandatory military training assignment."

Veronica's birth mother, Christinna Maldonado said in a statement that she was upset by the Cherokee Nation's decision to further prolong the legal wranglings of this adoption case.

"I have been told about today's filings in the SC Supreme Court, and I am deeply saddened to see continued legal wrangling in this case that continues to distort critical facts, and ironically has for the first time appealed to Veronica's 'best interests' in an attempt to unlawfully hold on to a little girl who has been separated from her parents for 18 months," she said. "She was separated from her family - with no transition whatsoever - and Mr. Brown's and the Cherokee Nation's lawyers argued repeatedly that her 27 months with the people who raised her from birth were totally irrelevant because of an accident of her father's heritage."{}{}{}{}

Hours earlier, several American Indian groups said they were preparing to sue over the court's decision to allow the adoption of a girl of Cherokee heritage by a Charleston-area couple. That order happened five hours before the state Supreme Court ruled, the tribe claims.

The Native American Rights Fund, National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Child Welfare Association said Monday they want to try to protect the best interests of the now-3-year-old girl named Veronica.

"When it comes to adoption proceedings, every court in this country has a legal obligation to put the best interests of a child first - every time, no matter the race of the child. This did not happen here. The South Carolina Court's order represents a perilous prospect for not only Veronica, but any child involved in a custody proceeding in this country," said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of NCAI.{} "In a rush to judgment, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered Veronica to be removed from her biological father without any consideration for her best interests.{} The decision contributes to the long and sordid history of Native American children being removed from their families without any consideration of their best interests. The National Congress of American Indians refuses to stand by as the rights of this child are violated."

With the backing of the U.S. Supreme Court, the South Carolina Supreme Court last week ordered a Family Court to finalize Veronica's adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

The girl has been living in Oklahoma since 2011 when South Carolina justices said a federal law favored her being raised by her biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Her father has been pursuing custody of Veronica in Oklahoma.

"Two years ago, both the South Carolina Supreme Court and Family Courts held best interest hearings and determined that it was in Veronica's best interest to be with her father and that he was fit parent," said Terry Cross, Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. "As a result the South Carolina Supreme Court transferred custody to Mr. Brown. The legal system worked then, but it is being ignored now. It is unconscionable that no best interest hearing has been held in conjunction with the latest transfer order. Every child deserves to have his or her best interests considered - that is a fundamental right, and one that should not be denied any child."

A nonprofit law firm representing Indians and India tribes in federal and state courts said it was working with attorneys in South Carolina and Oklahoma to find the best course of action.

"In this case, we strongly believe that federal civil rights laws are being violated, that other applicable provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act are being ignored by the state courts, and that the principles underlying treaty and international law protecting the rights of indigenous peoples are being undermined," said John Echohawk, Executive Director of NARF.

The Cherokee Nation and Dusten Brown have only a few days left to file a petition with South Carolina courts.

"Enough is enough. It is time for everyone in Oklahoma to sit down and act like adults and figure out the best way to transition Veronica back to her home on James Island," Maldonado said.

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