Just as law enforcement officials thought Dusten Brown would surrender Sunday for not turning over his 3-year-old daughter, Veronica, to her adoptive parents, the father left a military base and returned to his home state of Oklahoma.
That’s where he plans to appear this morning for an emergency hearing in Cherokee Nation District Court in Tahlequah, where a judge could claim the authority to decide who should care for the toddler.
But South Carolina judges already have ruled that Veronica should live with Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, and the U.S. Supreme refused to stop the adoption by the duo who raised the girl until she was 27 months old.
Some of the Capobiancos’ supporters labeled the unexpected turn of events as a maneuver to avoid the authorities who have a warrant for his arrest.
Brown had been undergoing a monthlong military school in Johnston, Iowa — the reason his family and the American Indian tribe he belongs to said he couldn’t show up for a visitation with Veronica and the Capobiancos last week.
But the Oklahoma National Guard, of which Brown is a part-time member, approved his departure from the Iowa base so he could attend the tribal hearing, where a judge is expected to be favorable to his pleas.
“Shame on the Guard for allowing him to use that training as cover in the face of a final court order,” Lori Alvino McGill, a Washington attorney who has spoken in support of the Capobiancos, “but then freely giving him leave” for the hearing.
Tribal spokeswoman Amanda Clinton declined to discuss the hearing or to respond to a joint statement Sunday from Alvino McGill and the Capobiancos’ attorneys accusing the tribe of being complicit in Brown’s alleged attempts to avoid arrest.
She instead reiterated that Brown should have a chance to challenge the adoption in Oklahoma before he’s forced to give up Veronica. The girl remains with Brown’s wife and parents in Nowata.
“(Brown’s family) is stressed out, to say the least,” Clinton said. “They’re openly distraught at the thought of losing her.”
Brown, 31, was supposed to turn himself in to authorities near Iowa’s Camp Dodge, just north of Des Moines, according to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.
He’s wanted on a felony charge of custodial interference after failing to comply with court orders transferring custody of his daughter, who turns 4 next month, to the Capobiancos.
The Sheriff’s Office obtained the warrant late Friday, and sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said deputies coordinated with Iowa authorities to arrange for his surrender Sunday morning.
When that didn’t happen, Brady said, deputies started working with law officers in Iowa and Oklahoma “to locate and apprehend” Brown.
The Oklahoma National Guard had rescinded Brown’s training orders late Saturday, allowing him to return to The Sooner State, said Col. Greg Hapgood, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard.
Brown had been enrolled in a 30-day course as he learned skills for a “particular specialty occupation,” Hapgood said.
Hapgood said the National Guard had no role in arranging Brown’s surrender or allowing him to leave without running into deputies from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction in the communities surrounding the military installation.
“This is purely a civil criminal matter,” Hapgood said. “Our job in the National Guard was to facilitate communication with the local authorities.”
What impact this morning’s tribal court hearing — scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern time — will have on Veronica’s fate wasn’t clear Sunday.
The court’s most recent involvement in the dispute came last month, when it appointed Brown’s wife and his parents to watch Veronica as he trained with the National Guard. That order of temporary guardianship came before South Carolina courts moved to finalize the adoption, so supporters said it should trump the decree.
Before Sunday’s emergency docketing, though, the court had planned to meet Sept. 4 to address Veronica’s custody and whether it should have had jurisdiction over her adoption.
McGill, the attorney for Veronica’s birth mother, said the tribal court’s move amounts to reviewing decisions by the South Carolina and federal supreme courts, which both ruled against Brown.
The U.S. Supreme Court first said the Indian Child Welfare Act shouldn’t have allowed Brown to claim custody from the Capobiancos. Then last month, the state courts finalized their adoption.
McGill said the tribal court’s action was “like something out of a science fiction fantasy novel.”
The tribal court action might complicate extradition proceedings if Brown eventually is arrested, according to his attorney in Charleston, Shannon Jones.
It’s unknown how long that process will take.
“I expect they will at least wait and let this play out ... before they act prematurely,” Jones said.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who worked with the Sheriff’s Office in getting the arrest warrant, said Sunday that Veronica’s custody status is a matter that’s separate from her father’s impending arrest.
Authorities cannot simply whisk Veronica away, Wilson has said.
“Any effect on Veronica’s custody,” the solicitor said, “remains to be seen.”
Attorneys for the Capobiancos and Veronica’s birth mother, Christy Maldonado, on Sunday ratcheted up the barrage of criticisms the opposing sides have exchanged in recent weeks.
They released a statement that said Cherokee Nation officials and anyone refusing to divulge the girl’s whereabouts, including Brown’s wife, “appear to be actively assisting an ongoing felony because they disagree with the final outcome of litigation.”
The argument from Browns’ supporters that he should get a chance to challenge the adoption before handing over Veronica was unacceptable, outrageous and offensive, the attorneys added.
“These folks ... have vowed never to comply voluntarily with final court orders,” they said. “(Brown’s arrest) is absolutely necessary to ensure that the rule of law is followed and a little girl is returned to her parents.”