An Oklahoma man at the center of a cross-country custody battle disappeared from the sights of South Carolina authorities again Monday, further complicating efforts to return his daughter to her adoptive parents on James Island.
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said Dusten Brown is only digging his hole deeper with stalling tactics to delay the return of 3-year-old Veronica to her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
Brown's attorney, however, questioned the validity of South Carolina's efforts to pursue criminal penalties against Brown and vowed to fight his extradition to the Palmetto State.
The Capobiancos said they were considering traveling to Oklahoma to retrieve Veronica themselves, saying they considered her to be a captive child and feared for her safety.
“No more delays. No more excuses,” Matt Capobianco said. “Our daughter has been kidnapped and I expect the situation to be treated as such.”
After failing to surrender to authorities over the weekend to face a custodial interference charge lodged by Charleston County, Brown unexpectedly turned himself in to deputies Monday morning in Sequoyah County, Okla. It was around the same time he was expected to attend a Cherokee Nation tribal court hearing in another Oklahoma county.
The Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office called Charleston County to verify the warrant, but Brown was released on $10,000 bail before South Carolina authorities could protest or speak with Brown, Cannon said.
“My belief is they didn't really have a real insight into the ramifications of this case,” Cannon said.
Charleston County investigators are now coordinating with agencies in Oklahoma to re-arrest Brown and find Veronica, whose whereabouts remained a mystery to authorities, Cannon said.
“This is a continuing felony. It is a continuing crime and any and everything he does that resists everything he is ordered to do builds evidence against him in relation to the criminal case,” Cannon said during an afternoon news conference.
While Cannon said his deputies don't have legal basis to go out to Oklahoma, they are working other avenues to get Veronica back to South Carolina and get Brown into custody.
Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday signed a requisition warrant to gain custody of Brown, and it was being shipped overnight to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
“She stands in support of the Capobiancos and shares their desire to bring Veronica home safely,” Haley's spokesman Doug Mayer said. In a statement to the Tulsa World newspaper, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's spokesman Alex Weintz confirmed their office expects to receive that request from Haley on Tuesday.
“At that point, Governor Fallin will have up to 90 days to review the request to make sure it meets the legal threshold for extradition,” Weintz said.
Brown refused to be extradited to South Carolina when he was arrested Monday and his attorney in Tulsa, Clark Brewster, told the Tulsa World they will fight the extradition. The court there, in granting bail, ordered Brown to appear back in court Sept. 12.
“I suspect that's going to be a serious challenge of whether that's a crime in this state,” Brewster told the newspaper, referring to the custodial interference charge. “That's a very unusual statute in South Carolina. We'll argue that it's not an extraditable charge.”
Cannon countered that argument by saying that “the crime occurred here. So it will be tried here.”
Dusten Brown's attorney in Charleston, Shannon Jones, called the situation “a real-life tragedy.”
“This is not what adoptions are supposed to be,” she said. “What in the world will Veronica think of her adoptive parents when she learns they ... put her father in jail?”
South Carolina judges already have ruled that Veronica should live with the Capobiancos, and the U.S. Supreme refused to stop the adoption by the couple who raised the girl until she was 27 months old. Brown has vowed to fight that ruling.
Brown, a part-time member of the Oklahoma National Guard, had been attending 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. That missed date, however, set in a motion events which led to the warrant for his arrest being issued.
Just as law enforcement officials thought Brown would surrender Sunday for not turning over Veronica, he left a military base in Iowa and returned to his home state of Oklahoma.
Brown was scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. Monday for an emergency hearing in Cherokee Nation District Court in Tahlequah, Okla., where a judge could claim the authority to decide who should care for the toddler. Instead, he skipped that date as well and surrendered in Sequoyah County.
Plea for help
Just two hours earlier on James Island, Matt Capobianco vowed to board a plane for Oklahoma to retrieve his adoptive daughter if state and federal authorities failed to intervene and enforce a court order to return custody of Veronica to him and his wife.
“I expect for her bags to be packed and for her to be ready and waiting to come home,” he said. “I expect Oklahoma law enforcement to escort me on the premises where my daughter is said to be held and arrest anyone who attempts to hold her captive.
“The legal game is over and it's time for our daughter to come home,” he said.
The couple said they feel the “judicial system has been spit on by those holding our daughter.”
Melanie Capobianco said she fears for Veronica's safety and questioned why law enforcement hasn't acted more quickly to recover a child being held against the wishes of her parents. “Where are you?” she asked law enforcement.
The Capobiancos called on FBI Director Robert Mueller, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Haley and Fallin to intervene on their behalf. They said they have done everything by the rules, abided by the legal process and now it is time for Brown and his family to do the same.
Capobianco family spokeswoman Jessica Munday accused Brown of illegally crossing state lines to avoid arrest and questioned why authorities haven't done more to apprehend him. “Where is our AMBER alert?” she asked.
It was unclear late Monday whether the couple had left for Oklahoma or still intended to make the trip following Brown's arrest and release. They could not be reached for comment later in the day.
Dusten Brown, Sequoyah County Sherrifs Office×
Melanie and Matt Capobianco held a press conference on Monday morning to call for immediate action to return their adoptive daughter, Veronica, to their custody.×
Matt and his wife Melanie Capobianco try to hold back tears just before they must turn over their adoptive daughter Veronica in Charleston in December 2011.×
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