TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Ryan Mackey got to know Dusten Brown when they were children in this city billed as the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
April 2009: Engagement between Veronica’s birth parents in Oklahoma ends. Dusten Brown denies financial support.
July 2009: Struggling to provide for two children, mother finds Matt and Melanie Capobianco through adoption agency.
September 2009: Veronica is born, taken to South Carolina as Capobiancos file for adoption.
January 2010: Brown files for custody.
July 2011: Family Court in Charleston says Indian Child Welfare Act applies.
September 2011: Court hears case.
December 2011: Court rules ICWA demands that Veronica live with Brown.
July 2012: S.C. Supreme Court rules 3-2 to affirm decision.
April 16: U.S. Supreme Court hears case.
June 25: Justices rule 5-4 that ICWA didn’t apply, send case back to S.C. court.
July 9: Brown’s parents, Tommy and Alice Brown, file to adopt Veronica under the ICWA.
July 17: Cherokee Nation courts name Brown’s wife and parents as temporary guardians.
July 17: S.C. Supreme Court orders Charleston judge to finalize adoption.
July 24: S.C. Supreme Court denies rehearing, asks sides to respect decision.
July 31: Family Court Judge Daniel Martin completes adoption, five-day transition plan.
Aug. 2: U.S. Supreme Court denies Brown’s request to stay adoption judgment under due-process concerns because court didn’t have best-interest hearing.
Aug. 4: Brown and Veronica don’t appear for scheduled visit with Capobiancos in Charleston.
Aug. 5: Martin orders immediate transfer, asks prosecutors to consider law enforcement measures.
AUG. 9: Charleston County Sheriff’s Office gets warrant for Brown’s arrest on felony charge of custodial interference.
MONDAY: After leaving Iowa National Guard base, Brown turns himself in to Sequoyah County, Okla., authorities, promptly posts bail. Tribal court custody hearing postponed because of arrest. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley sends extradition for Brown to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
TUESDAY: Capobiancos fly to Oklahoma, hoping to bring Veronica home. Fallin declines to sign extradition warrant.
WEDNESDAY: Capobiancos plead with Brown to allow visit with Veronica. Fallin threatens to have Brown extradited to South Carolina if he doesn’t allow visit.
THURSDAY: Former reality TV personality Troy Dunn turned away after trying to forge compromise with Brown on tribal land.
FRIDAY: Mediation agreement reached in state court hearing, but attorneys ordered not to discuss it.
They got to know each other’s Cherokee clan and participated in tribal traditions together.
But Mackey’s role when he stepped into a tribal courtroom Friday, at the start of two hearings about Brown’s 3-year-old daughter, wasn’t to take sides.
Attorneys in the custody dispute over Veronica, who was adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, had agreed to have Mackey’s prayer open the tribal hearing.
“It’s hard not to be partial,” said Mackey, also known by his Cherokee name, Wahde. “But when you pray to God, you ask God to seek the resolution that’s best for that little girl.”
Brown later emerged and jabbed two wooden implements used in stickball, a traditional tribal sport similar to lacrosse, into the air. He had brought them as a symbol of strength.
But his mother appeared to have been crying, and his father shook his head when a reporter asked him if any of the news was good.
The only known result of the five hours of hearings — a mediation agreement — added confusion to an already perplexing legal battle. The pact, forged earlier in the day during a three-hour hearing in state court, was sealed from public view.
Who ultimately will care for Veronica remained unknown. Neither side would answer that question.
Court clerks here revealed to The Post and Courier that the mediation deal was struck, but they said a judge’s gag order prevented the document’s release and discouraged attorneys from talking about it.
Local sheriffs also barred reporters from the courthouse without displaying an order stating that the proceeding was closed.
The unexpected hearings in Cherokee County and Cherokee Nation district courts arose from dueling legal maneuvers.
As attorneys for the Capobiancos learned of the noontime tribal hearing to address Veronica’s temporary guardianship under her grandparents, they managed to have Brown served with a writ of habeas corpus demanding his and Veronica’s presence in state court at 10 a.m. eastern time.
The writ, signed by Special Judge Holli Wells, said Brown had “abducted” and “secreted away” Veronica from the Capobiancos.
Brown, his wife and parents were told to bring Veronica to the state court hearing. The adults arrived, but the child didn’t come with them.
It wasn’t known why Veronica wasn’t there or whether Brown would face legal repercussions because of her absence.
The Capobiancos’ move, their spokeswoman said, wasn’t one they made lightly.
When the tribal hearing was scheduled, the couple was “intentionally excluded,” so their attorneys filed a “special federal request” with the judge in Cherokee County, where Brown has been staying on tribal land, Jessica Munday said.
The hearing Friday was meant to bust through the new roadblock that Brown’s attorneys had erected, she said.
“Veronica does not need nor deserve any more court hearings,” Munday said. “Veronica deserves for this to be over!”
The couple’s adoption of the girl was finalized last month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Brown wrongly got custody in late 2011 through the Indian Child Welfare Act.
She had stayed for 27 months with the Capobiancos before she went to live with Brown in Nowata, where Cherokees have a strong presence. Both the girl and Brown are members of the tribe.
After Brown’s court defeats and when he didn’t hand over Veronica, Charleston County authorities got a warrant to arrest. Oklahoma’s governor promised to have him shipped to the Palmetto State if he didn’t at least allow the Capobiancos a visit.
Since Brown returned to Oklahoma from a National Guard training stint, he has stayed clear of his home in Nowata, an hour north of Tulsa.
The Cherokee Nation instead offered a historic guest house on its property in Tahlequah, where the 300,000-member tribe is headquartered.
A former reality television personality, Troy Dunn, went to the two-story white house Thursday, but his offer to help negotiate a compromise between Brown and the Capobiancos was brushed aside.
Cherokee marshals later returned and served the Browns with the judge’s order to appear in state court.
The move set off a frenzy, which the Capobiancos had hoped would end with them taking Veronica home to South Carolina. An immediate custody change was an option for the judge.
Before the state court hearing, law officers escorted the Browns through a throng of journalists representing a dozen media agencies, including CNN and NBC.
Deputies did the same for the Capobiancos, whose vehicle had been followed from their Tulsa hotel more than an hour away by a car marked with a Fox TV affiliate’s logo.
After the first hearing, the couple left the courthouse through a side door and hopped into an attorney’s vehicle that took them to the tribal courthouse two blocks away.
Their presence in the tribal court was unprecedented. They had not been informed of past proceedings in that court, including one in which a judge ordered Brown’s wife and parents to care for Veronica during his time in military training.
Tribal legal officials have said that the guardianship order should have prevented the Capobiancos’ adoption and that Brown deserved a chance to challenge the adoption decree.
About 20 picketers gathered outside the tribal courthouse and jeered, “She belongs in Oklahoma,” eliciting a flurry of horn-blasting from passing motorists.
“Bring that baby back home to her daddy,” a man strolling on a nearby sidewalk, yelled in support of Brown.
One of the picketers, Linda Martin, displayed a sign expressing the importance of the Cherokees’ heritage.
“Everything seems to get turned around against Dusten,” said Martin, a lifelong Tahlequah resident and tribal member. “But he’s the father, and she belongs here with him.”
Martin and others cheered when Brown, wearing blue jeans and an Army T-shirt, left the tribal courthouse.
His stern, determined expression never wavered. He clutched his wife’s hands as she offered a brief smile for the cameras pointed at the duo.
Tribal legal officials and Brown’s attorney, Clark Brewster, said little when questioned. They cited a gag order.
The Capobiancos briskly walked outside and into an awaiting Cherokee police cruiser. The tribe’s marshals enforce laws its land.
“Go back to South Carolina,” someone yelled, a chant the Capobiancos have become accustomed to this week.
They had not expected such a blitz of public appearances when they flew here Tuesday.
Matt Capobianco acknowledged earlier this week that he hadn’t packed formal clothing. Like Brown, he wore jeans to the occasion.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
Robin and Dusten Brown leave Cherokee County District Court on Friday afternoon, Aug. 16, 2013, after a three-hour hearing regarding the adoption of Dusten Brown’s 3-year-old daughter, Veronica, by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island. (ANDREW KNAPP/STAFF)×
The Cherokee County courthouse. (Andrew Knapp/Staff)×
Baby Veronica, 3, pauses for a portrait while playing Aug. 6, 2013. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World×
Dusten Brown and his wife, Robin, arrive along with Brown’s parents, Alice and Tommy Brown (background), at the Cherokee County Courthouse in downtown Tahlequah, Okla., on Friday.×
Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island arrive at the Oklahoma courthouse Friday where a judge was expected to rule on the custody of 3-year-old Veronica, whom the couple adopted.×
Veronica, 3, lived for 27 months with the Capobiancos before she went to live with the Browns in Nowata, Okla.×
A hearing is expected to take place at the Cherokee County courthouse this morning at 10 a.m. EST in the Veronica custody case. (Andrew Knapp/Staff)×
Veronica plays in the backyard of the Cherokee Nation’s Jack Brown House on Aug. 6. The 3-year-old was not present at Friday’s court hearing.×
Picketers gathered outside the Cherokee County Courthouse on Friday to protest Veronica’s adoption.×
Alice and Tommy Brown, the parents of Dusten Brown, have temporary guardianship of Veronica.×
Neither the Capobiancos nor the Browns discussed the results of Friday’s hearing.×
Cherokee legal officials have said that Dusten Brown deserves a chance to challenge the adoption decree.×
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