Iraq War vet fighting to keep 3-year-old daughter in custody dispute

(CBS News) A veteran of the Iraq War is fighting to keep his 3-year-old daughter, Veronica, after the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Veronica lives in Oklahoma with her biological father, Dusten Brown, and his wife, Robin. Veronica has lived with the Browns for 18 months.

Dusten Brown said, "This child is very happy where she's at. I mean, the way she acts around here, it's like we've had her from day one."

Before her time with the Browns, it was South Carolina couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco who first brought Veronica home after her birth in 2009. They had plans to adopt her from her unmarried biological mother. Brown had sent a text message and signed paperwork surrendering his parental rights.

But Brown says he misunderstood, and believed he was giving custody to Veronica's biological mother. At the time, he felt the decision was necessary, because his National Guard unit was deploying to Iraq. Brown said, "That's my daughter. I'm not wanting to abandon her. I want to be right there along the whole time, watch her grow up, make her decisions and everything. Never once did I want to just give her away."

When Brown found out about the adoption plans, he invoked a 1978 federal law that protects children of Native Americans from being separated from their families and tribes. Brown is Cherokee. Brown said, "The only people that could really give you your history of your ancestors is your tribe, what happened whenever they were growing up, what stories they were told by the elders. I mean, that's -- that's her history. And that's how we we were raised in knowing where we come from and how it began."

A South Carolina court sided with Brown and ordered Veronica be given to him. But last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the 1978 law did not apply in this case. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that Brown "...abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child."

Asked what he thought when he heard of that decision, Brown said, "I mean, they could think what they want, say what they want. But I never abandoned my child."

CBS News' Elaine Quijano said, "But you said 'yes' in that text message. And you signed the paperwork before you left for Iraq."

Brown replied, "Right. And that was one of the dumbest decisions that I've made."

But the justices also decided to leave the custody battle in the hands of a South Carolina court. The Capobiancos -- who want Veronica back -- declined our request for an interview but in a statement said: "..We are missing Veronica like crazy and anxious to be able to see, and talk to, and hold her again."

Brown said, "She's seen pictures of them, you know, on TV holdin' her. She's just always like, 'Well, that's me. But who are they?' You know, I mean, it's sad that she doesn't know who they are. But to take her from us right now would devastate her, would ruin her world."

South Carolina's Supreme Court will now decide what's in Veronica's best interests: life with her biological father or the couple who raised her for two years.

Watch Elaine Quijano's report above.

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