South Carolina's quest to haul Dusten Brown into a Palmetto State courtroom stalled for at least another month Thursday after an Oklahoma judge freed the birth father of 3-year-old Veronica while he fights extradition in the cross-country custody dispute.
With a warrant signed by Oklahoma's governor and Charleston County sheriff's deputies waiting to escort him back to South Carolina, Brown appeared to be running out of options when he surrendered to authorities in Sequoyah County, Okla.
But a short time later, a Sooner State judge granted Brown bail over the protests of the local sheriff, allowing him to remain free until an Oct. 3 hearing decides whether he will be sent to South Carolina to face a custodial-interference charge. He was released on a $10,000 surety bond.
Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart said he initially refused to follow Judge Jeff Payton's order because he had never heard of a suspect being released while awaiting extradition on a governor's warrant. “This is the first time in history I have seen that done,” he said.
Lockhart said he called the governor's office and initially was told not to release Brown. The governor's office then called back and told him to follow the court's orders, the sheriff said.
“I lost,” he said.
Lockhart said Brown was released a short time later and left with his attorney.
“This whole thing is a farce,” Brown's attorney, Clark Brewster, told The Tulsa World. “I can't understand why the governor of this state would sign such a document.”
Payton downplayed the episode when reached at the courthouse. He said Brown indicated his intent to challenge the governor's warrant, and he is entitled to be released on bond while he does so.
“Most folks don't object to a governor's warrant. They agree to it, but that's not the case in this instance,” the judge said, adding that Brown “has a constitutional right to a bond.”
A Charleston County judge issued a warrant for Brown's arrest last month after the Nowata, Okla., man failed to turn over Veronica to her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, with whom she lived for 27 months.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley requested Brown's extradition from Oklahoma on Aug. 13.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed the extradition warrant Wednesday after concluding that Brown was “not acting in good faith” by disobeying court orders in both states and denying the Capobiancos access to Veronica.
Haley's office released a statement Thursday praising Fallin's action.
“We appreciate the cooperation of Governor Fallin and the state of Oklahoma to help us arrive at a resolution in the best interests of baby Veronica,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor. “We will continue to work with the Capobiancos until Veronica is back home in South Carolina.”
Brown's attorney told The Tulsa World that Fallin's signature doesn't guarantee that Brown will be sent to the Palmetto State to face the felony charge.
“Fortunately, you cannot be convicted by fiat anymore,” Brewster said. “He's entitled to a hearing. Obviously, we fully expect that he will not be extradited.”
Veronica's birth mother gave her up for adoption to the Capobiancos shortly after she was born, and Veronica lived with them until she was 2 years old. Before the adoption could be finalized, Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, used the heritage he shares with Veronica to get custody in late 2011 through the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Courts have ruled that Veronica's adoption by the Capobiancos is legal, but Brown has refused to recognize it. Veronica remains in Oklahoma, on tribal land, while Brown and his legal team continue their fight to retain custody of the little girl, who turns 4 on Sept. 15.
The Capobiancos have been in Oklahoma for weeks trying to get her back. They were joined last week by Charleston County sheriff's deputies, who were sent to assist with the case and the potential return of Veronica, Brown or both to South Carolina.
Maj. Jim Brady said the sheriff's office had no comment on Thursday's developments. Charleston County's chief prosecutor, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, also declined to comment.
The Tulsa World reported that Brown's attorneys had asked for a conference with Fallin's advisers to discuss the legal issues around the warrant, but Fallin signed the warrant without that meeting happening.
Brewster also told the newspaper that a planned visit between the Capobiancos and Veronica on Saturday was canceled on the advice of Cherokee marshals after Matt Capobianco threatened to leave with the girl.
Lori Alvino McGill of Washington, who had been serving as the attorney for Veronica's birth mother, said Brewster's accusation was an act of desperation.
“It's false, and he knows it,” said Alvino McGill, who argued for the Capobiancos during a hearing Tuesday in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. “It's outrageous and defamatory. ... It's a blatant attempt to improperly influence the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”
In a separate statement, Alvino McGill also called into question how Brown was able to post bail Thursday.
“Given that Mr. Brown has miraculously been released on bond yet again in the face of an executed governor's warrant,” she said. “I'd expect the state's lawyers to take a very hard look at what is going on here.”
Meanwhile, Shannon Jones, Brown's attorney in Charleston, called on the governor to retract a statement alleging that her client hadn't agreed to visitation or negotiation.
Last month, Brown had been in tears over thoughts of being apart from his daughter as his attorneys made offers to the Capobiancos, she said. The Capobiancos' attorneys declined those offers, according to Jones.
“We've done everything we could to negotiate,” she said. “But they are confident that they will win this case. They do not believe they need to negotiate.”
Alvino McGill praised the governor's “decisive action” to help end the case.
“Veronica deserves the right to go home now, without yet more court orders or the intervention of law enforcement,” Alvino McGill said. “Brown's continued refusal to abide by the law is hurting everyone involved, especially Veronica.”
The Capobiancos and Brown were together in an Oklahoma courtroom Wednesday. It was the sixth courtroom in three weeks to hear arguments over some element of the case, according to The Tulsa World.
Both sides are now waiting to learn whether the Oklahoma Supreme Court will uphold a lower court order for Brown to hand over custody of his daughter to the Capobiancos. A decision is expected soon, but it is unclear whether that ruling also will be challenged, further delaying a resolution of the case.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.
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