Mediation papers filed in Cherokee custody battle

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — Two families seeking custody of a 3-year-old girl filed a mediation agreement Friday while attending hearings in Oklahoma and tribal courts to determine the best course forward for the child.

Supporters of Dusten Brown cheered as he and his wife entered a Cherokee Nation courthouse Friday afternoon to argue his daughter Veronica shouldn’t be adopted by the South Carolina couple who raised her until she was 2.

And the couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, was jeered as they attempted to enforce a South Carolina court order that finalized their adoption.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June that Brown had no valid claim to the girl under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Both couples attended a hearing first in state court in Cherokee County regarding visitation, and then in tribal court regarding guardianship. But after all the proceedings, the girl remained with Brown and his family, where she’s been since 2011.

Cherokee County Court Clerk Shelly Kissinger says paperwork was filed in state court noting that a mediation agreement has been filed.

She said the agreement is sealed, and lawyers and spokespersons for both sides said they couldn’t talk about the case, citing gag orders in both courts. The couples didn’t speak, either.

Chants of “Cherokee children are not for sale,” ”Go back home to South Carolina” and “She’s not yours” rang out when the Capobiancos passed outside tribal court.

Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, began fighting the Capobiancos when he discovered that the mother of his child intended to put Veronica up for adoption. The girl’s mother is not Native American.

Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Cherokee Nation has a vested interest in the child and, if invoked at the right time, the law allows the tribe to take over the adoption proceedings

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June that provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, didn’t apply in the case, and a South Carolina court awarded the couple custody on July 31. In a separate ruling, a Cherokee Nation court awarded custody to Brown and his family.

The Capobiancos, from Charleston, S.C., haven’t seen Veronica for 19 months. She is about to turn 4.

“After 19 long months of trying this case in local family courts, state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown has determined yet again his intent to continue to drag this unfortunate situation out further,” the Capobiancos’ spokeswoman, Jessica Munday, said in a statement.

The couple had asked that Brown bring Veronica to court with him on Friday. But the girl was not at either courthouse. Brown was escorted throughout the day by Cherokee Nation marshals.

Court officials would not let reporters attend either hearing.

Outside the state courthouse, about 20 protesters said the courts should let the child stay with Brown.

“We’re here to stand up for the culture of the Cherokee Nation” said Dawni Mackey, the tribe’s community and cultural officer.

Herbert Wolfe, a Cherokee Indian and a refrigerator technician from Stilwell, said, “You’re our hero, Dusten. Our kids will be proud of you for years to come.”

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