Dusten Brown holds Veronica in his attorney's office in Charleston after taking custody of her Dec. 31. (Provided by Dusten Brown via The Post and Courier)

Biological Father Regains Custody of Two-Year-Old Cherokee Daughter in Adoption Battle


The biological father of a 2-year-old Cherokee girl, who was adopted by non-Native parents in 2009, has regained custody.

The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which protects American Indian families from being separated, trumped South Carolina law in a December 30 appellate court ruling. In accordance with South Carolina law, a father is stripped of his paternity rights when he has not provided pre-birth support or taken steps to be a father shortly after birth, the adoptive couple's spokeswoman, Jessica Munday, told Reuters.

On New Year's Eve, the biological father Dusten Brown took his daughter, Veronica, from her home in Charleston, South Carolina to his residence in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a neighboring city of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation.

"Their culture, nobody else can provide that for them. And they have a right to be able to experience that relationship with their tribe," explained David Simmons with the National Indian Child Welfare Association to WLTX.

But Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who adopted Veronica from birth mother Christina Maldonado plan to appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The couple have started a petition to "consider the best interests of the child" on change.org, and supporters and the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare created the blog SaveVeronica.org, which calls for the toddler to be returned to her adoptive parents. The blog features background information on the adoption case, links to media coverage and numerous photos of the happy toddler.

Conflicting media reports detail the adoption process. Munday told Reuters that the Capobiancos legally adopted Veronica at birth through an open adoption. "Matt cut the umbilical cord, and they were the first people to hold her," Munday told Reuters on Sunday.

But CNN reported that Veronica remained with her birth mother for the first few months of her life. In 2009, Veronica's biological mother and father signed a waiver agreeing to put the infant up for adoption. According to Brown's attorney, Shannon Jones, Brown signed the legal document, but did not fully understand it. Shortly after her birth, Brown, a U.S. Army solider not married to the birth mother, deployed for one year, and the baby was sent to the home of Matt and Melanie Capobianco. Four months after Veronica's birth, Brown took legal action, seeking custody of his daughter.

"My client has been fighting for custody of his daughter since shortly after her birth," Shannon Jones told CNN by e-mail. "He loves this child with all his heart."

Former U.S. senator Jim Abourezk from South Dakota, who authored the ICWA, told The Post and Courier that the law is intended to serve as a safety measure to keep Native children with their families or Native communities whenever possible. After Abourezk reviewed Veronica's story, he called the law's interpretation in this case "something totally different than what we intended at the time."

"That's a tragedy," he told The Post and Courier. "They obviously were attached to the child and, I would assume, the child was attached to them."

The Cherokee Nation and Brown have filed a motion for a gag order to prevent the Capobiancos from talking about the case. "In an effort to quell the undue outside attention to this sensitive affair, the Cherokee Nation attorney general's office filed a motion for a gag order in the Maldonado case Wednesday afternoon, along with a motion to release the judge's final order to the public," Chrissi Ross Nimmo, the tribe's assistant attorney general, told News on 6. "I ask that all parties involved in the matter respect the confidential nature of these juvenile court proceedings."

Prior to the gag order request, Matt Capobianco told WCIV-TV: "It's awful. Everybody keeps saying how bad they feel for us, but she's a 2-year-old girl who got shoved in a truck and driven to Oklahoma with strangers."

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redwolf48's picture
Submitted by redwolf48 on
Good decision. The law is clear and historically too many of our children have been taken from us and given outside of their ethnicity. Nice to see that the courts are finally getting it right after the egregiously unfair Heim case.

kduffy's picture
Submitted by kduffy on
Let me first begin by saying I have great respect for the Indian Nation. That being said, you have this story completely wrong. You really need to get your facts straight. What a disservice to your readers. Matt and Melanie were present at Veronica's birth and never left her side. Furthermore, one of the authors of the ICWA law said this :Jim Abourezk, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota, authored the law. Reached by phone in Sioux Falls, S.D., Abourezk said the Indian Child Welfare Act began as a safety measure to keep outsiders from legally stealing children from their tribes. After reviewing Veronica's story, Abourezk called the law's interpretation in this case "something totally different than what we intended at the time" "That's a tragedy," he said. "They obviously were attached to the child and, I would assume, the child was attached to them."

charlietown729's picture
Submitted by charlietown729 on
TERRIBLE DECISION! This adoption was not the breakup of an Indian Family. I am part Cherokee and this is shameful. Misuse of ICWA, for what is essentially legalized kidnapping, has got to stop. Mr. Brown testified to having no relationship with the Cherokee tribe or customs other than the benefit he gains from using ICWA to get custody of his biological daughter. This child's rights were not even considered here. He signed away his parental rights and offered the birth mother no support during her pregnancy. She made the ultimate sacrifice in finding a loving home for this child and now it is being torn apart.

tejasangel's picture
Submitted by tejasangel on
Full support to this father in keeping his daughter with her people. Many adoptees on FB are interested in supporting you and would like to know if you have started a letter writing campaign in your support. If so, please let us know where that is and if you would like help in beginning one to show the support you have, please let us know!

erimentha's picture
Submitted by erimentha on
This story makes me so happy. It is a rare occurrence that a child is returned to their real parent after adoptive parents have claimed them. And it shouldn't be. I am an Australian adoptee and I was adopted during what our social workers dubbed the adoption boom era of the 1960's and 1970's. At that time, young, unmarried women had their babies systematically removed from them and placed for adoption with little thought to how that would affect the mother or the child. They were rarely, if ever, informed of their rights as parents. That can no longer happen here in Australia. All adoptions are done through state government departments and family preservation is encouraged. There is a 17 year waiting list for domestic adoption. It is a shame that in the United States the thinking is so backwards when it comes to removing children from their parents simply because of a temporary circumstance. If women were thoroughly informed of the psychological effects of relinquishment, if they were encouraged to try to parent, if they were supported to parent, and if fathers were given the rights they deserve, perhaps more children would not end up adopted in the first place. As for the adoptive parents who have vowed to fight for what is in the best interests of the child, the people who say it is wrong to remove a child from "the only parents she has known" - I find it interesting that this argument goes out the window when a kidnapped child is returned to their real parents after years with the kidnappers. Apparently a piece of paper makes all the difference, to everyone except for the child. It is a wonderful thing that father and daughter have been reunited.

jsmcadory's picture
Submitted by jsmcadory on
Red Wolf, Please tell me what part of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, pertains to this case. Also, let me point out that this child was NOT taken from anyone!

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
Kelly, Thank you for your comment. Former U.S. Senator James Abourezk's quotes have been added to the article. Please understand that we presented both sides of the story as there are conflicting reports. We note that Reuters interviewed the couple's spokesperson, who says the couple adopted Veronica at birth. But CNN quotes Dusten Brown's attorney, who claims that Veronica remained with her birth mother after birth, and was later adopted by the Capobiancos.

whatatravesty's picture
Submitted by whatatravesty on
Is there ANY concern for the welfare of Veronica? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the that she is infinitely better off with two loving, stable and financially secure parents vs. living ...with the sperm donor with his elderly parents on welfare that has fathered 3 kids with 3 women,has a drug history and REFUSED to support his child unless the apparently much more intelligent mother married him. He is quite simply an opportunist using and being used by the ICWA to bolster their federal free ride.His lack of concern for Veronica was made painfully clear by his refusal to transition in a way that wouldn't scar her emotionally. The heritage issue is simply a loop hole being used to perpetuate this insanity.I used to look at the Indian Nation in a respectful manner.No More....apparently this is just another example of out tax $$$ being pilfered while destroying an innocent child's life.I don't know how any involved sleep at night.

marap's picture
Submitted by marap on
As an adoptee (non-native) who was bastardized by the State of California in 1969 in order to be sold for adoption.... Thank GOD for ICWA!!!! Fathers throughout this country are being discriminated against and are being stripped of their parental rights to raise their own children simply because they are not acting like a "husband" to the child's mother and she decides to relinquish the child for adoption. Many men are never informed that they have impregnated a woman! These adoption agencies that make 6 billion dollars/year off of the sale and redistribution of children will NOT inform these fathers either. They don't want the "product" aka children to be pulled off their shelves. Our government will come after men for child support and DNA tests of the women choose to keep their children. But, if the women choose to relinquish their children, the men are kept in the dark. It's called baby pimping and it's human trafficking right here in the U.S.A. ICWA saved a family. Now we need "CWA" to save the non-native families from the baby pimps.

shotwell77's picture
Submitted by shotwell77 on
I wish this story wasn't all over the media, because it's not up to the public to decide, it's up the courts. That said, I'm very glad to see the father step up and be reunited with his daughter.

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
My congratulations to the father of this child and the Cherokee Nation for getting their little girl back. Laws are laws and they must be followed. Finally some justice in a court for the Cherokee family.

moroccantreasures's picture
Submitted by moroccantreasures on
This was a failed adoption, the child was never legally adopted by the couple. Infants are always considered high risk and failed adoptions are common. Why the potential adoptive families spokes person has to keep spreading mis information it to try and gain supportors for their side hoping no one will seek the truth and be easily mislead by not factual wording. There is a big difference in wording that this child was legally adopted and the adoption had been finalized as to compared t potential adoptive parents intending to adopt but having the adoption fall through.

smoke's picture
Submitted by smoke on
they (the adoptive parents) have no business saying this child is or isn't "Indian enough" to be with her father and his people. Her blood quantum isn't the determining factor. And they being non-Indians have no right to tell her who she is or is not.

smoke's picture
Submitted by smoke on
What if maybe her father and his people want her to grow up Indian? Native people are struggling to keep their culture alive amid 500 years of attempts to wipe it off the face of the Earth by "progress". There's a bigger picture here that you people dont seem to get.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
I am disgusted by the undertone of racism in so many of the comments from the adoptive father (shoved in a truck), to the *supposed* Christian organization (took her in a pick up truck), to all the snarky comments about him somehow making money off this. You people are a real piece of work! A, you don't make money off of ICWA. B, did y'all somehow miss that he wasn't there because he was deployed to Iraq protecting your white arses and C, didn't anyone look at the picture in this article? That is a happy baby with a happy father. You can't fake that! So, can one of you excuse makers tell me why an *adoption* attorney somehow didn't bother to follow the law? Would there have been a problem if he had followed the law to begin with? Would there have been all this wailing by the adoptive couple if they had simply saved their money and handed over the child MONTHS ago? Do you homework and THINK before you type, people!

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
This child is a baby. Her bio father, a soldier, decided he wanted his daughter and made a mistake of signing off. While I feel for Veronica's adopted parents, there is no doubt in my mind that being with her biological parent will be best for her short of his being at risk to her in the future. She will know where her heritage, and her only concern as she grow up will to ask about the one parent's abandonment, a less traumatizing issue than if she never knew about either. Believe that!

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Look, I feel for the thoughts that say this girl should be raised with knowledge of her heritage, HOWEVER, ahead of those thoughts should be the most important person in all this THE LITTLE GIRL! Her "father" should have wanted that all along, not when it was convenient for him. Those parents didn't steal the girl, they gave her a home and love when her "father" signed papers and showed with his actions as well that he didn't care to! This little girl is now being forced to live with people she doesn't know! Is anyone considering how traumatizing that is?! How long will it last?, until he decides again he doesn't want her?! I'm not Indian, nor do I favor this country stripping their rights or the rights of a father...but, I AM A FATHER! I'm a father when it's not convenient to be one, when it is convenient, when its hard, when its easy, etc. I've fought to be with, and for my son since I knew about him because I truly cared! I've went through the court system to keep custody because his "mother" decided to sign it over and then decided it was convenient to have him and tried to act like she didn't understand what she was signing. For this little girl to be taken away from HER HOME because of a misinterpretation of a law (which even the writer of the law declares) is wrong! I only hope that this family doesn't give up on her like her "father" did in the past.

AnieLin's picture
Submitted by AnieLin on
I'm part Cherokee on my father's side, and although he identifies as such, he has never attempted to teach me about that part (or any part) of my heritage. I'm all for the ICWA in cases where the child will benefit from their heritage. But I would like to see exactly what this man is doing to provide his family's culture to Veronica. If he doesn't participate in Tribal activities, or even practice them at home, then I don't see the reason for him to win custody over a child he willingly agreed to give up for adoption. How hard is it to understand? "Sign these papers, and you will no longer be a father." I don't care if she is 2% or 100% Cherokee, if she isn't given her culture either way, then she should be in the better situation. I very highly doubt that the mother of Veronica will be a part of her life, even now. She gave up her rights too, and it is wrong to force her back into a life connected with this man. That is one of the many reasons a woman chooses adoption for their children, to disconnect from the father. Is he going to force her to pay child support now?