Dusten Brown and daughter Veronica pet geese in the yard. (Suzette Brewer)

The Fight for Baby Veronica, Part I

Suzette Brewer
May 06, 2013

It is dinner time at the Brown home in Oklahoma. As dusk settles over the horizon, ground venison sizzles in a skillet on the stove as Veronica Brown and her father, Dusten, feed two pet geese in the backyard. Two small dogs trail behind, climbing over each other to stay with the little girl. A joyful bundle of dimples and curly dark hair, Veronica Brown is the master and commander of her backyard empire.

“Here is their swimming pool. It has sharks in it,” she points authoritatively to the cartoon sharks on the bottom. “But they drink out of it.”

In a remarkable act of equanimity, one of the geese allows her to pick him up and put him in the water. She strokes his head and gives him some more pellets from her hand. Not to be outdone, the other goose jumps in the small pool and tries to horn in on the food.

“She knows her own mind,” says her father proudly. “She knows exactly what she thinks, and she won't hesitate to tell you.”

Veronica at her Bartesville, Okla. home in April (Suzette Brewer)

Shortly after, Brown's wife, Robin, comes out to the family's deep freezer and grabs an armful of more frozen venison. She is still dressed in her scrubs from a long day at nursing school. Brown has taken the day off from his construction job to work on the house and run errands.

Their home is modest but immaculate and it is clear that the Brown's take great pride in keeping it up. They have painted and restored most of the interior, but have taken a break—for the time being.

“Every time we go to Home Depot, we come out with three more projects,” says Brown, smiling wearily. “We had to stop because it's always something.”

This much is clear: If one did not know that this small family was at the center of one of the most important Indian law cases in the last 30 years, the Browns would seem like any other family at 6 o'clock in America. Two tired parents, a three-year-old with endless energy, dinner on the stove, dogs yapping, geese squawking and a house in the middle of remodeling. In military-speak, they are squared away.

But underneath the normalcy, Dusten Brown is fully aware of the enormous implications—both personally and tribally—for the blandly named Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl now under review by the Supreme Court.

“It's always in the back of my mind,” says Brown, an Iraq War veteran who is still enlisted in the National Guard. “But I just go through every day being a parent, just acting like it's not going on.”

To summarize, after Brown asked ex-fiancee Christine Maldonado to marry him, she became pregnant. Shortly there after, she broke off the engagement and contact with Brown and quietly put the couple's child up for adoption without notifiying him of her intentions—which ultimately pitted Dusten Brown against the pre-adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and the Capobianco's adoption lawyers, who apparently were not prepared for the fact that Brown turned out to be a tougher customer than they expected.

This story, however, did not begin with Maldonado's pregnancy. Brown and Maldonado have known each other nearly 14 years, having met as 16-year-olds in high school. As classmates in Bartlesville's alternative education program, they dated off and on for nearly 11 years. During that time, Brown and Maldonado had both married and divorced other people. Maldonado had two children by her first marriage, Brown had a daughter from his.

Sometime in the late 2000s, they began dating again and Brown decided to propose to Maldonado, and she accepted. By December of 2009, she was pregnant. Soon after, she sent him a text message telling him she wanted to break up.

“It was all text messages,” he said, “because she didn't want to talk to me.”

Brown said he did not understand why she wanted to break up and that she was not clear in her reasons. But because they had dated off and on for so long, he said, “I just thought we could repair our relationship and get back together. We had done that a lot, so I thought we could do it again.”

Dusten Brown with daughter Veronica in her pink bedroom (Suzette Brewer)

Instead, she texted Brown asking him to sign his “rights” over to her. Initially, Brown said he was under the impression that she simply wanted full custody. At no time, he said, did she ever mention that she was thinking of giving their child up for adoption. He is adamant that had he known what her plans were, he would've acted on the spot.

“I thought she wanted full custody, but that I would still be a part of my child's life,” he said. “I was going to war. I didn't know what was going to happen in Iraq, or even if I was going to come back home alive. So I texted her back and said okay.”

Thinking that Maldonado needed time, Brown said he sent the text message and gave Maldonado her space. In his mind, they were simply in another “off” period, yet he remained hopeful that they would eventually work things out.

This was not to be. Four months after Veronica's birth, and six days before Brown was scheduled to deploy for Iraq, he received a message from Maldonado's lawyer that he needed to come to Bartlesville, Okla., to sign “some paperwork.” Because he was leaving the country, he was in “lock down” at his Army base in Ft. Sill and was told he would not be allowed to make the five hour trip to sign the paperwork. After some wrangling with his superiors and the lawyers, he was given permission only to leave base and go to nearby Lawton to visit a local process server.

It was from the process server that Brown finally learned the whole truth: That  his daughter had been born four months earlier; that Maldonado had not only signed her own rights away, but had also put the girl up for adoption, something to which he did not, nor would ever agree; and that the child had also been living in South Carolina for four months with people he considered strangers.

“It was like somebody stabbed me in the heart,” said Brown. “She's a good mother to her other two children, so it was shocking to me that she would just give our child away. As far as I'm concerned, she sold her child. But if she wasn't going to raise [Veronica], then I definitely wanted her.”

To Brown, it was clear that Maldonado, the Capobiancos and their lawyers had timed their legal ambush before his deployment in the hopes that Brown would simply fold and walk away. They were all, he said, mistaken. “That was never going to happen.”

“I went straight to the Judge Advocate General on base,” he said. “And they got me a lawyers in Bartlesville and South Carolina.”

In the meantime, Brown assigned power of attorney to his father and had his lawyers ask for a stay of adoption until his deployment in Iraq was over, which was granted. During that time, it became evident that Brown's rights as a tribal member and due process had not been followed, according to court documents. In their rush to push the adoption through under the radar, Maldonado, the Capobiancos and their attorneys had colluded to strip Brown of his parental rights outside the purview of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Instead of a legal termination hearing, as is provided for under the law even in non-ICWA cases, the plaintiffs zeroed in on that fateful text message. This became the focal point of the subsequent legal battle with the Capobiancos, who had spent a lot of money on the adoption, even giving Maldonado $10,000, over and above her medical expenses, according to court testimony. Their message to the world was clear: “He gave up his rights. He abandoned his daughter. He is a 'bad dad.'”

But as in most custody battles, things are not always as they seem.

Next Week: The battle for Baby Veronica begins as the Capobiancos dig in, while their lawyers and public relations team go viral.



aiahninchi ohoyo's picture
aiahninchi ohoyo
Submitted by aiahninchi ohoyo on

keep up the good fight...thoughts and prayers are with you...your daughter has the right to be brought up as native, not be transformed into a little dark skinned white girl....HOKA HEY!!!

Hunter's picture
Submitted by Hunter on

I've been following this case for over a year and this account is clearly biased. Dusten Brown abandoned both the biological mother and his unborn child; the court documents confirm that at no time did he ever provide any kind of financial or other support throughout the pregnancy. This article is garbage...written by people who will happily look the other way when a child's welfare is at stake.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

We have laws for a reason and the Capobianco's attorneys broke them in their zealousness to provide a child for their clients. We can't reward people for bad or illegal practices that put children like Veronica at risk. If you really believe in the best interests of children being served you can't approve of people that try to go around the law and create unnecessary grief for all those involved.

49indian's picture
Submitted by 49indian on

Hey Hunter get of this page! She is clean, safe, happy, loved and with her people WHERE SHE BELONGS and where so many of our stolen children should be too. Keep on fighting we're with you all the way

Mom of Native Babies's picture
Mom of Native Babies
Submitted by Mom of Native Babies on

Hunter - you have NO CLUE what the hell you are talking about. Clearly this was a desperate woman who SOLD her baby to the highest paying couple that she hand picked before delivery... she milked them for all she could while HIDING from Dusten. Veronica is a registered tribal member and has NO business being raised by anyone other than her OWN blood family members that love and want her. Veronica Childe Welfare will be in danger if forced to learn anything other than her own heritage. Proven fact that Native children placed with non native homes suffer the highest rate of drug use, drop out rates and suicide because they never really seem to fit in anywhere. You sir need to educate yourself with FACTS prior to posting just to feel like you made a valid point because YOU Failed to do both..

Usdi Tsiskwa's picture
Usdi Tsiskwa
Submitted by Usdi Tsiskwa on

The supreme court better see this case for what it is, greedy people who see their demands more important than the baby Veronica's best interest. This toddler lives with her biological Father, the fact that the Capobiancos
believe that ripping that baby girl out of her biological parent's home is better for Veronica makes them TERRIBLE selfish parents and should NEVER have children placed with them. The fact that these adoptive parents superseded the law and ICWA makes them criminals. This goes out to HUNTER....YOU are biased and a racist. The punishment does not fit your imaginary crime. Really do you think the court of law would take away the biological Father's rights over 9 months of lack of support? The law is very clear...you cannot deny custody for lack of child support. Basic law 101...You are full of crap and a troll, posting on an Indian journal to incite division with rhetoric not based on facts

NativeGrl's picture
Submitted by NativeGrl on

It is foolish to presume that Indigenous readers of this journal will read your post and take your word as authoritative expertise, just because you have followed this case. Clearly you are not proficient in the law, let alone ICWA law. Thank goodness that the courts are charged to base their findings on the law and not some jerk's decision to punish a Father for a lifetime, based on 9 months of nonsupport (which is NOT breaking the law) That is why the law of this country is very direct about nonpayment of spousal or child support...One CANNOT withhold custody based on nonsupport....It is ILLEGAL to do so. That is not even including ICWA which asks the question if you have paid attention to the case at all, because ICWA laws were not followed on purpose by the bio-Mom, adoptive parents, and lawyers, which IS ILLEGAL....Funny how you ignore actual crimes in favor of White adoptive parents but over exaggerate the (NON CRIME) of the LEGAL Father....This case is an attempt to rewrite Indigenous protections in favor of the dominant society that has been stealing Indigenous babies for 500 years

Little Bird Lane's picture
Little Bird Lane
Submitted by Little Bird Lane on

This biological Father has never disparaged the Mother of his daughter. If we are to question the veracity of the persons involved in this case to make informed decisions on who are better parents for this little girl, we must consider their behavior. For those who believe the Father abandoned this baby, the proof is in the pictures above. This Father has stepped up and taken his role as this baby's Father valiantly. I would ask who has reached out to help this mother besides opportunists? Because the only one who has ever said kind words about her is the Father of her baby Veronica. That, in my book, makes him the better parent for this baby who will grow up wanting desperately to know that her biological parents loved her and fought for her. She will grow up hating the people who tried to destroy that relationship. Even more so with the generational trauma involved in the continued WHITE greed that removes Indigenous children from Indigenous homes at an alarming rate. ICWA protect Indigenous children for this very reason.

ribluebird's picture
Submitted by ribluebird on

How come we have not heard from the birth mother? Did she just take the money and run? Does paying money make a father? I would like to hear the birth mothers story might give some balance to what is happening. As far as I'm concern there is a federal law involved here that has been broken and is still being broken all over USA.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

Young man, keep up the good fight & be encouraged that your many extended family of many people are praying to the Great Spirit for you & this little one.

We First Nation people MUST stand up for every right we have under the Washichu law or soon we will have no rights at all! Stay strong my friend & remember our ways, our beliefs & always remember, it is the Creator who sees all, hears all & knows all.

winnie posey's picture
winnie posey
Submitted by winnie posey on

keep fighting..Indian child welfare act has been in placed for awhile. The Judge ordered that the father didn't give his parental rights away! The Capobiancos know that the child belongs with the father; what if it was the. Capbiancos's child that was given away. I am pretty damn sure they would be fighting to get her back. The nature lied, so she get her hands on money...go after the mother; she is the one that didn't want her child; she should spend time in jail for what she did. Not all father's are dead beat-fathers. Give him a chance...Good Luck! may the almighty be with you each day-be strong.

Proud Lakota's picture
Proud Lakota
Submitted by Proud Lakota on

CLEARLY there is malpractice here on the capobiancos part.. i feel sorry for them as the lawyers and attoneys they had didnt have knowledge of ICWA! shame on them! shame on Jessica Munday to for blowing this story out of context and using her PR firm for publicity for her own good!! im glad Veronica is with her tribe, community and dad! she deserves every minute with family

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Your are spot on. It's so sad that so many Indian tribes will get behind a dead beat dad. I have first hand info on his shenanigans, and the top priority in his life is not his daughter, oh, unless he get money for her. I guess that's the welfare in the Indian Child Welfare act. That way he won't have to sell drugs out of his car in Nowata ( check arrest records ). How many kids does he have, and doesn't support. He's going to kidnap her back and go to Iraq? umhumm Where there is smoke there is fire. Native Americans should be ashamed and what they have supported him doing to his bio offspring. Shame shame shame

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Your are spot on. It's so sad that so many Indian tribes will get behind a dead beat dad. I have first hand info on his shenanigans, and the top priority in his life is not his daughter, oh, unless he get money for her. I guess that's the welfare in the Indian Child Welfare act. That way he won't have to sell drugs out of his car in Nowata ( check arrest records ). How many kids does he have, and doesn't support. He's going to kidnap her back and go to Iraq? umhumm Where there is smoke there is fire. Native Americans should be ashamed and what they have supported him doing to his bio offspring. Shame shame shame

April Pohawpatchoko's picture
April Pohawpatchoko
Submitted by April Pohawpatchoko on

My daughter did the same thing.The child is in Ohio.the parents are white.and icwa did not post any notices with the tribe and required.the so called adoptive parents also paid her bills,gave her gas cards. money helped her get a car.