Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday dropped efforts to bring Dusten Brown to South Carolina to face a felony charge for not promptly relinquishing custody of his 4-year-old biological daughter, Veronica, to her adoptive parents from James Island.
Less than 24 hours before Brown was to appear in an Oklahoma courtroom to contest his extradition, Haley sent a letter to Sooner State Gov. Mary Fallin withdrawing her demand that Brown be shipped to South Carolina to face a charge of custodial interference.
Fallin’s support for extraditing Brown waned after he handed over Veronica to Matt and Melanie Capobianco on Sept. 23. Haley’s staff and Fallin’s office had been consulting in recent days on how to resolve the matter.
“My decision to withdraw the demand for extradition of Mr. Brown is due to the exceptional nature of the underlying matter and the fact that Mr. Brown ultimately complied with the orders of the South Carolina courts, as well as the Oklahoma courts,” Haley said in her letter.
After receiving Haley’s letter, Fallin released a statement to The Tulsa World expressing hope that the matter is now settled.
“My heart goes out to Dusten Brown as well as the Capobianco family,” Fallin said. “Both have suffered through a long and emotionally exhausting ordeal regarding a young girl they clearly love and wish the best for. ... It is my hope this legal matter will be closed and that all parties – especially Veronica – can find peace and stability in their lives”.
Haley noted that 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has not dismissed the underlying charge, meaning Brown could still be arrested if he sets foot in Charleston County.
Wilson could not be reached for comment late Wednesday on Haley’s decision or her ultimate plans for the warrant.
Haley could also still choose to renew the extradition request for Brown at a later date, according to a letter from Fallin’s deputy general counsel, Rebecca Frazier. But it appears for now, that matter is effectively closed.
Brown’s decision to relinquish Veronica came hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court allowed the South Carolina adoption decree to be enforced there.
The Capobiancos, with whom Veronica had lived for the first 27 months of her life, quickly left Oklahoma in the company of two Charleston County sheriff’s deputies and a State Law Enforcement Division agent. The law enforcement officers have since come home but there have been no sightings of the Capobiancos and Veronica on James Island and no word on when they might return.
Brown’s supporters had remained uneasy about the prospect of him of going to jail in a far-away state. The felony charge carried a possible 5-year penalty.
Haley requested the extradition in August, and Fallin signed the warrant on Sept. 5. Brown had been free on bail and awaiting a chance Thursday to challenge his extradition when Oklahoma’s high court issued its ruling that allowed to Capobiancos to regain custody of Veronica.
Todd Hembree, Cherokee Nation Attorney General, said the tribe was pleased by Haley’s decision, which leaders “see this as a step in the right direction for all involved.” Both Brown and Veronica are members of the Cherokee Nation.
Shannon Jones, an attorney for Brown in Charleston, also was relieved to learn of Haley’s decision, but she said she maintains her belief that the governor never should have gotten involved in the custody dispute in the first place.
“There are plenty of other citizens in our state who have been in a similar position,” Jones said. “When we treat one case differently because it has a lot of media publicity, I think we are destroying our integrity.”
Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor “is just happy that baby Veronica is back home in South Carolina with her parents where she belongs.”
Veronica had been living with Brown since New Year’s Eve 2011, after he used the Indian Child Welfare Act to gain custody of her. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the ICWA didn’t apply to him because he hadn’t been in his ex-fiancee’s life when she was pregnant.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.