Charleston County spent $9,356 in taxpayer money to send two sheriff's deputies and a State Law Enforcement Division agent to Oklahoma for nine days to provide assistance in the cross-country custody dispute for 3-year-old Veronica, records show.
When the team left on Aug. 29, it appeared some resolution in the case might be imminent, and Sheriff Al Cannon said he felt a responsibility to have deputies on hand to help.
But a series of legal maneuvers created further delays, and the team returned home Saturday without Veronica or her biological father, Dusten Brown. He is wanted on a Charleston County warrant for custodial interference for failing to turn over the girl to her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island.
Making the trip were sheriff's Sgt. John Nice, Inspector Rita Zelinsky and SLED agent Marion Baker, county records show. Their journey cost the county $2,578 for plane tickets, $2,742 for hotel rooms, $1,458 for a rental car and gas, $861 for meals and $283 for other assorted expenses, records show.
The county also shelled out $1,037 in overtime and $395 in holiday pay for the trio's trip, which spanned the Labor Day holiday.
South Carolina's quest to haul Brown into a Palmetto State courtroom stalled for at least another month on Sept. 5 after an Oklahoma judge freed him on bail while he fights extradition on the custodial interference charge.
A Charleston County judge issued a warrant for Brown's arrest last month after the Nowata, Okla., man failed to hand over Veronica to the Capobiancos, 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 last week after concluding that Brown was “not acting in good faith” by disobeying court orders in both states and denying the Capobiancos access to Veronica. His attorneys are now trying to block efforts to send him to South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Brown has filed two appeals with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking to block a state court decision there ordering him to hand over Veronica to the Capobiancos.
During a visit to the Lowcountry on Monday, Haley said she had been in contact with Fallin and the Capobiancos and plans to continue working with them to see that Veronica returns to South Carolina.
“It's a very clear situation,” Haley said. “The courts ruled that Baby Veronica should be back with her parents. ... I will continue to make sure we do everything we can until we can get her back on South Carolina ground. I will tell you, I completely feel for all of the parents involved and for everyone that's involved but at some point you have to take the emotion out and look at what the courts said and that is that she should come back to her parents in South Carolina. We're going to continue to work with the parents and with Gov. Fallin to make sure that happens.”
Haley said she doesn't think it will be necessary for her to travel to Oklahoma to work on Veronica's return.
“Gov. Fallin and I have a very good relationship,” she said. “It's very easy for us to get on the phone and talk to each other. I'm continuously in touch with the parents so I don't think that's going to be necessary.”
In other news, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, today called on the relevant state, federal and tribal authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure the well-being and human rights of Veronica.
“Veronica's human rights as a child and as member of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous people, should be fully and adequately considered in the ongoing judicial and administrative proceedings that will determine her future upbringing,” Mr. Anaya said in a written statement. “The individual and collective rights of all indigenous children, their families and indigenous peoples must be protected throughout the United States.”
Lori Alvino McGill, an attorney for the Capobiancos, said “the only violation of Veronica's rights is happening because Veronica is being unlawfully detained from her only lawful parents.”
“Mr. Anaya is entitled to his opinion about the outcome of this case, but fortunately any further court proceedings about Veronica's custody are governed by the laws of the United States, including the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “Under those laws, Matt and Melanie are Veronica's parents, period — and she has a right to be returned to their care, custody and companionship.”
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.
Lauren Sausser contributed to this report. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.