Cherokee Nation Mourns as Veronica Is Returned to Adoptive Family

Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today Media Network

In the end, it came down to one simple strategy: Waiting. As Dusten Brown faced the Damocles Sword of jail time and a felony warrant, Matt and Melanie Capobianco only had to wait.

Last week, as the clock was running down on the stay that the Oklahoma Supreme Court had granted him, Dusten Brown had tried to negotiate even a bare minimum of visitation with his daughter. At the beginning of the week, there was a hopeful offer that included three weeks in the summer, one weekend every other month in South Carolina, and with alternating Christmases, which seemed like a solid deal. But as the parties returned to court on Wednesday morning, the Capobiancos again reneged and the negotiations started all over again.

By Friday afternoon, they made one last half-hearted offer in which Brown would get to see his daughter roughly 10 hours a month in South Carolina, with supervision. But even that, according to insiders, was not written to include any kind of enforcement.

Even before they were virtually forced into mediation in a courthouse in Tulsa last week, Dusten Brown had tried to negotiate a settlement with the Capobiancos for months, which they outright rejected.

In spite of their public proclamations that they had “always” insisted that they would allow Veronica to stay in contact with her paternal biological family, behind the scenes insiders say it was apparent to the Brown family and their lawyers that the Capobiancos weren’t interested in negotiating any kind of deal at all. This fact alone is one of the reasons Dusten Brown had fought so vociferously and publicly to force them to the negotiating table.

But even then, the negotiations were merely photo opportunities in which they were photographed arriving and leaving the courthouse in downtown Tulsa. Once inside, they had no pretense about their intentions. All they had to do was wait; no matter what Dusten Brown did or did not agree to, he was going to jail, say insiders.

After the “negotiations” failed again on Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted their stay, which allowed Veronica to remain with Brown while he continued to seek legal redress in Oklahoma.

Exhausted and left with few options other than jail time and the loss of his military career and pension, he discussed her peaceful transfer with his family, legal team and tribal officials. He and his wife, Robin, packed a few bags for Veronica, who had just turned four-years-old last week. Before the family gathered to say their last goodbyes, Tommy Brown, Veronica’s grandfather, began suffering chest pains and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

At 7:30, a caravan of federal marshals made their way to the Jack Brown House in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a guest residence near the Cherokee Nation tribal complex where the Browns had been staying for several months to maintain their privacy.

Chrissi Nimmo, the assistant attorney general for the tribe, took Veronica’s hand and led her to the waiting SUV that was to take her to the Capobiancos.

After a four-year struggle to keep his daughter, one that led the shy, unassuming soldier all the way to the Supreme Court and beyond, it was over.

As the Brown family went to the hospital to visit their patriarch, the Capobiancos went on another media blitz, starting with a live interview on CNN.

As word of the transfer began to go viral, condolences for Dusten Brown and his daughter began pouring in from all over the country.

“We are deeply, deeply saddened by the events of today, but we will not lose hope,” said Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “Veronica Brown will always be a Cherokee citizen, and although she may have left the Cherokee Nation, she will never leave our hearts.”

“Our hearts are heavy at this course of events,” said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “Any other child would have had her or his best interest considered in a court of law. The legal system has failed this child and American Indians as well. Our prayers are with everyone concerned, but most of all with Veronica.”

Experts say that because of Veronica’s current age, she will experience trauma and homesickness. But adult adoptees who have been watching from the sidelines are all-too-familiar with the challenges that lay ahead for a little girl who is cognizant enough to know what has transpired.

In Oklahoma, she was surrounded by her large extended family, which included her grandparents, her father and stepmother, her sister, Kelsey, from Brown’s first marriage and a chatty phalanx of half a dozen cousins, with whom she had grown close. She had made friends at pre-school and loved her pets. She was a spark of lightning with a sharp mind and quick to giggle, a girl who loved pink and shoes.

In South Carolina, Veronica will be the only child on both sides of her adoptive parents’ families. The Capobiancos, both of whom are in their mid-40s, have no other extended family nearby, save for a stepmother who was divorced from Melanie’s father before he passed away.

Time will tell what the ultimate outcome will be for Veronica, who will undoubtedly be given the best of what the Capobiancos can afford in terms of education and the trappings of an older, upper middle income childless couple. Nonetheless, so far in her young life, she brought attention to the corrupt and broken system of illegal adoptions that are taking place every day throughout Indian Country. In spite of her removal from Oklahoma, Veronica Brown paved the way for other children to remain with their communities and families, bringing attention to the loopholes and cracks in the Indian Child Welfare Act that allow attorneys, social workers, guardian ad litems and judges to continue profiting from a very profitable industry adoption and foster care industry that traffics Native babies and children.

“We hope the Capobiancos honor their word that Dusten will be allowed to remain an important part of Veronica’s life,” said Hembree. “We also look forward to her visiting the Cherokee Nation for many years to come, for she is always welcome. Veronica is a very special child who touched the hearts of many, and she will be sorely missed.”