Cherokee dad loses girl in S.C. custody battle that went to Supreme Court

Three-year-old Veronica is the subject of a custody battle that has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court.
CBS News/Personal Photo

COLUMBIA, S.C. South Carolina's highest court has ruled that an Indian child who's at the center of a custody suit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court should be returned to the Charleston-area couple seeking to adopt her.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 3-2 that Matt and Melanie Capobianco are the only party properly seeking to adopt the girl in South Carolina and ordered a Family Court to finalize the couple's adoption.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt the 3-year-old named Veronica. South Carolina courts originally said the federal Indian Child Welfare Act favored her living with her father and Dusten Brown, a Cherokee Indian, took custody in 2011.

Earlier this month, the girl's biological father filed to adopt the child in Oklahoma.

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reported last month that the father, Dusten Brown, signed paperwork surrendering his parental rights after his baby daughter was born and before his National Guard unit went to Iraq. He also sent the baby's mother a text message that said, "I will just sign my rites (sic) away," but claims he didn't intentionally give away his daughter forever.

"Before I deployed, I thought I was just signing the papers to her, you know custody rights," Brown told Quijano. "I didn't think that I was signing, you know, giving up everything ... not wanting to have anything to do with my child. I mean that's my daughter."

In a statement, the Cherokee Nation said it was "outraged and saddened" over the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision.

"Dusten Brown is a fit, loving parent and Veronica is, as the court previously defined, 'safe, loved, and cared for.' That should be enough.," said Amanda Clinton, Cherokee Nation communications director.

The Capobiancos were at Veronica's 2009 birth and raised her for the first two years of her life, believing they would officially adopt her from her unmarried biological mother.

The 1978 federal Indian Welfare Act protects children of Native Americans from being separated from their families.