Suzette Brewer
Veronica at home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (Suzette Brewer)

The Fight for Baby Veronica, Part 2

Suzette Brewer

This is part 2 of a series about the custody battle for three-and-a-half-year-old Veronica, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 16. Also read: The Fight for Baby Veronica, Part 1.

The Devil's in the Details

August 21, 2009

My office is working with a South Carolina attorney in the interstate placement of a baby to be born sometime in mid-September. The baby's mother believes she is part-Cherokee, and the baby's father is supposedly enrolled with the Cherokee Nation.

...The birth father is: Dustin [sic] Dale Brown

(1/8 Cherokee, supposedly enrolled)

DOB:XX, XX, 1983 [sic]

Born and raised in Oklahoma,

Presently in the army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma

...the birth mother chose [the Capobiancos] to adopt her baby and has been working with them for the past four to five months...and she believes the father has no objection...Could you let me know whether you would object to this adoption by a non-Indian family—and whether the birth mother, Christy, is eligible for a CDIB Card?” – Letter from Tulsa attorney Phyllis Zimmerman to Myra Reed, Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare Division

Dusten Brown was at his wit's end. His parents, Tommy and Alice Brown, who had also known Maldonado for years, were desperately worried and equally puzzled by her stonewalling and silence. So, in the summer of 2009, with a pregnant ex-fiancee refusing to speak or communicate with him in any way, he drove to her home in Bartlesville, Okla., in an attempt to see how she was doing and give her some money to help with the baby. But Maldonado, having already promised her unborn child to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, S.C., refused to cooperate.

“She wouldn't even answer the door,” said Brown. “I could hear voices in the house and her car was there. I knew she was home, and she knew I was there. But I didn't want to make a big scene, so I left.”

In hindsight, Brown said that Maldonado's actions at that time were most likely a strategy to make it appear as though he had “abandoned her and the baby.” A charge which he flatly denies.

“That's absolutely not true,” said Brown. “I did not 'abandon' her and I would never pabandon my child. I tried everything I could to contact her. I texted her, I tried to call her, I even went to her house, I tried to give her money, my parents tried to contact her, they wanted to help her, but she made it clear that she didn't want to see me and she made it impossible for me to talk to her. Finally, I just let her have her space. But I had no idea that she was going to pull a stunt like [giving Veronica up for adoption].”

By that point in time, however, the wheels to place Veronica for adoption without his knowledge or consent were already in motion. Major decisions had already been made, papers had been signed, lots of money had exchanged hands—including a handsome $10,000 fee from the Capobiancos to Maldonado to help with her “expenses”—while attorneys for both the birth mother and the pre-adoptive couple had started the legal process. All of these activities were in violation of specific requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, not to mention completely ignoring the fact that Dusten Brown had no idea what was happening to his child, or that he might object and want to raise the child himself. It was a miscalculation with enormous consequences.

What is certainly clear, however, is that all of the parties involved for the plaintiffs, including the birth mother, the Capobiancos, the adoption agency and all of the counsel, were fully aware that Brown was “supposedly part-Cherokee,” and that being a member of a federally-recognized tribe matters a great deal in the U.S. adoption industry—hence the proactive letter from Zimmerman to the Cherokee Nation before Veronica was even born. Apparently, it mattered enough to Maldonado that, according to the letter to the tribe's ICWA office, she was also inquiring about securing her own Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card, presumably in the hope that it would nullify Brown's potential enforcement of ICWA. Under federal law, it would not have made any difference.

In fact, according to tribal lawyers, had Maldonado been successful in her 11th hour attempt to seek tribal membership a month before Veronica's birth, it would have automatically guaranteed the intervention of the Cherokee Nation into the adoption proceedings. Had that been the outcome, perhaps this case might have been settled a long time ago, without the enormous amount of heartache and legal fees incurred by all the parties involved. But that didn't happen.

Facts Are Stubborn Things

From the outset, the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl has been rife with errors: Errors in spelling, incorrect dates, bad judgment, and finally, errors in execution. Whether by prevaricated fabrication, purposeful obfuscation or the result of a simple incompetence, the crucial mistakes made in the very beginning and thereafter proved pivotal to the subsequent battle between the Capobiancos and Dusten Brown.

Exhibit A: According to the letter from Phyllis Zimmerman, not only was Brown's first name misspelled, but his birth date and birth year were also incorrect.

Why does this matter?

“We have over 310,000 tribal members,” said Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, who heads the ICWA division. “We have eight tribal members who are named 'Dustin Brown' who were all born in 1983. Dusten Brown, with an “e” was born in 1981. Ms. Zimmerman's letter was the only information presented to us and under state and federal law, we have to follow what's in the letter. And based on what she provided us, which was incorrect, we responded to that effect.”

September 3, 2009

Please be advised that the Indian Child Welfare Program has examined the tribal records and the above named child/children cannot be traced in our tribal records …

This determination is based on the above listed information exactly as provided by you. Any incorrect or omitted family documentation could invalidate this determination. (Emphasis added)” – Letter from Myra Reed, Cherokee Nation ICWA office.

It was that final sentence that set the stage for the legal showdown for Veronica. The aforementioned “Dustin Brown, 1983” did not exist.

But, Dusten Brown, born in 1981, did exist. And things were about to get ugly.

“The birth mother knew I was Cherokee, she knew I was a tribal member, she knew my birth date and she knew how to spell my name,” said Brown matter-of-factly. “Look, we've known each other since we were 16. We were engaged. She absolutely knew all of my vital information. And she gave [the attorney and the tribe] the wrong information [hoping to keep the adoption secret].”

On January 6, 2010, four months after Veronica's birth, Brown received notice to terminate his parental rights from a process service in Lawton, Okla. Brown was now aware that he had a daughter, that she had been adopted without his knowledge or consent, and that she was living with a pre-adoptive placement couple in South Carolina. To add insult to injury, Brown was never even notified when the girl was born.

Neither did he approve, he said, nor would he have ever given his daughter up for adoption. Finally, he said, it became clear why Maldonado had kept quiet and had refused to see or talk to him during her pregnancy. According to court testimony, Maldonado had planned to give her child up to the Capobiancos for at least six months before Veronica's birth.

Devastated and angry, Brown immediately drove back to Ft. Sill and consulted the Judge Advocate General, who helped secure legal representation in both Bartlesville and South Carolina. Shortly thereafter, a Stay of Proceedings, provided for under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, was executed by his legal team and granted by a family court judge in South Carolina until Brown returned from his deployment in Iraq. Soon after, Brown was advised of his rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act and his attorneys contacted the tribe again. This time, he was verified as a tribal member by the tribe's enrollment office.

On March 30, 2010, the Cherokee Nation, per the previous caveat regarding “incorrect or omitted family documentation” in the tribe's response to Zimmerman's letter, reversed its position and filed a Notice of Intervention in Adoptive Couple v. Baby M, asserting its sovereign right “to Intervene at any point in a state court proceeding, termination of parental rights or adoption to an Indian child so that it may exercise all its rights...”

Meanwhile, the Capobianco's attorney, Raymond Godwin, filed suit against Brown in South Carolina Family Court for them to retain custody of the baby girl who had come to be known as Veronica. In his voluminously worded amended complaint, Godwin told the court that the plaintiffs had “received assurance from the Cherokee Nation that... the child would not be considered an Indian.” In fact, not only did the tribe not “assure” the plaintiffs that Veronica would not be considered an Indian, they made sure to include the admonition that they had every right to intervene should the information change.

Additionally, it outlines the following: That the birth mother had received no assistance from the father during the six months proceeding placement; that the plaintiffs did not give any compensation to Maldonado; and the piece de resistance: “...the Birth Father of the minor child has no standing to contest this adoption.”

None of which is completely true. The Capobianco's complaint blindly ignores the following facts: That the Indian Child Welfare Act is applicable state and federal law and that Dusten and Veronica Brown are both entitled to protection under the law; that the Capobiancos did, in fact, give $10,000 given to Maldonado, in addition to her birth expenses; that Dusten Brown, did try to contact Maldonado, but she had willfully cut him off because she had already begun the adoption process without his knowledge or consent, thereby making it impossible for him to be involved with his child; and finally, as the biological father of Veronica, Dusten Brown, has every right to contest her adoption under state and federal law.

Next Week: The South Carolina Supreme Court Makes its Decision

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Adoption is many times a dirty business. Bottom line: Adoption IS selling kids unless you give them away to someone to raise & receive not one red cent for transferring them to the new parents. Otherwise, if you are given any sort of "gift", you are selling & trading your child away for some sort of profit. Lawyers & females who misrepresent a child's father, deliberately misspelling vital information are guilty as sin in committing a premeditated crime of deception & deceit. Shame on ANY lawyer & birth parent who would commit such a crime. You bring disgrace to your Creator, your First Nation tribe, your family & yourself. You should pray to the Great Spirit to forgive you & take the evil from your spirit. Selling kids rates right up there with buying slaves in my opinion.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
If a child is born in Oklahoma to someone with a CDIB card, they can go to the birth certificate office called Vital Statistics and have a Native Certification ID Certificate printed stating the Tribe and the childs mother and father. I got one for my granddaughter...

Caroline Maher's picture
Caroline Maher
Submitted by Caroline Maher on
Just another arrogant attempt by the so called dominate culture to inflict and continue the genocide of the Native Americans. This American Holocaust must end. I pray to the creator that ICWA prevails , these white people leave this beautiful girl and her dad alone. The Manipulation has to stop, stop trying to take our children to continue the genocide. Take a good look in-spite of your best efforts Native Americans are still here. I pray the supreme count does what needs to be done and enforce our rights as a people and not allow these duodenal people to break up another health and happy Native family this is so inhumane what these people are attempting to do with there deceit and lies.

Linda P.'s picture
Linda P.
Submitted by Linda P. on
Finally!! at least now the father has his parental right's! way to go ICWA

G. Pago's picture
G. Pago
Submitted by G. Pago on
This is very interesting that the white kidnapping family paid the birth mother a $10,000 "fee" for their baby. That is a sale, no matter what she wants to call it. Now I understand much more about why all the stonewalling, all the lying, all the misrepresentation, all the pleas to the white mass media and the racist scoundrel Dr. Phil.

Lauren's picture
Submitted by Lauren on
I'm pretty sure that little Veronica will stay with her father. However, going off-topic, I wonder how far ICWA is willing to go to just to keep American Indian children in American Indian families. If there was a case of abuse or neglect, for example, would ICWA keep a child in an abusive/neglectful American Indian family rather than place them with a family that is non-American Indian? Just curious.

joan nassar's picture
joan nassar
Submitted by joan nassar on
the man carries the seed of the child the father should have some rights.indian children should be with an indian father or relative so that she won lose her culture.

DJ's picture
Submitted by DJ on
I am an adoptive father and I would like to clear up a few misrepresented facts in this article. First off. The adoptive parents are not the bad guys here. They adopted a baby. They took the proper steps to check with the fathers tribe. Based on the information they where given the tribe said all was good. They have taken care of that baby since the day she was born. To them that baby is theirs. The problem comes from the biological mother. If she purposely lied to be sneaky that is where all the problems come from. If she had told the truth the proper steps would have been taken and the adoptive family would not have continued the adoption process for this baby. They would have been put back in the adoption pool until they where once again chosen by a birth mother. The lawyer doesn't know who she was sleeping with. The lawyer says. Do you know who the father is then he writes down what ever she says. He does no research figuring the mother should know such things. My last point is the 10 grand. This is not a "gift" or to "purchase" the baby. This is to help the mother pay for healthy food to eat, vitamins, welfare checkups, and other things that directly help the baby. The adoptive mother is carrying a baby to term so that the adoptive parents can raise it. It would be much cheaper and easier for the mother to just abort the child. This money is to help defray the expenses of carrying a baby to term. Any of you who have ever had a baby knows that 10 grand does not go far. I figure my biological baby cost about $40,000 and my adopted baby cost about $36,000. One thing this is not about is race. The baby is MIXED blood. The adoptive parents love that baby so much that they are most likely spending large amounts of money to try to keep her. The father on the other hand has backing from the tribe. Just to finish. I am very sad for both sides for this situation, and especially so for the young Veronica. Both sides are fighting for the most noble of reasons. They fight because they love their child. If you want to point fingures at the cause of this whole thing look to the biological mother. Even there though she could have just aborted the baby and been done with it. Then baby Veronica would have never seen the light of day. So it's hard to be to harsh on her to. Just my opinion.

Alana's picture
Submitted by Alana on
The birth mother clearly wanted no responsiblities and was in it for the money by lying and bending the truth for her benefit, she needs to just get her tubes tied.

Meschelle Linjean's picture
Meschelle Linjean
Submitted by Meschelle Linjean on
Phylllis Zimmerman handled my adoption to White adoptive parents in 1970 (I'm Cherokee and have been reunited with my birth family for over 20 years). When I was able to obtain my adoption papers in 1990, I found it curious that they listed my mother as White, when she is Cherokee. I actually called Ms. Zimmerman and asked her about this a couple of months ago. She said, "Well, that's just the way we did things back then. No one thought to ask." I'm forever grateful for ICWA, which demands that social workers and adoptions attorneys DO ask, and for laws that demand that CORRECT information be supplied in custody proceedings involving Indian children. If these laws had been in place when I was a baby, I would not have had to go so many years in cultural isolation and with identity struggles. I can't believe we're still having to fight for these rights for our children, but as long as the need remains, I'll be fighting for ICWA and our children.

Ashleigh's picture
Submitted by Ashleigh on
I dont see any evidence to the fact that the father is teaching his daughter her first nations heritage. i see the child sourounded by white folk and no mentioning if she veronica is around other first nations children. culture center story books where she can know her history, language and customs. nope non of that

Nuccii's picture
Submitted by Nuccii on
I am going to be writing up an as detailed essay of this story as well as the ICWAct in general. I'd love if you were to share what you think personally with me. I am on neither side, I want to hear the ways in which this act BOTH helps and breaks families in the more modern times. If you only want to give one side because you firmly believe or do not believe in this act that is fine, but I do like open minded people. One specific question if you email me I want you to answer is how much blood do you really think should be enough to make someone indian, percentage wise. Thank you Ross

Disgusted's picture
Submitted by Disgusted on
This is ridiculous. Where was this father when the mother was pregnant? A father is not a noun but a verb. Actions speak louder than words.

Samantha Franklin
Samantha Franklin
Submitted by Samantha Franklin on
This case highlights the unethical practices and laws that protect a billion dollar adoption industry whose position it is to procure babies for paying customers. Adoption law in America reduces adoptees to commodities. Veronica has a loving family who has fought for her since she was a baby. When will America wake up?

Samantha Franklin
Samantha Franklin
Submitted by Samantha Franklin on
This case highlights the unethical practices and laws that protect a billion dollar adoption industry whose position it is to procure babies for paying customers. Adoption law in America reduces adoptees to commodities. Even so-called "open adoption" is not legally enforceable. Adult adoptees are treated as perpetual children, with their identities and original birth certificates "amended" and "sealed" from them indefinately. Veronica has a loving family who has fought for her since she was a baby. When will America wake up?