Police to escort adoptive parents home in U.S. battle over Cherokee girl

CHARLESTON, South Carolina Tue Sep 24, 2013 7:10pm EDT

Four-year-old Veronica, is shown with her adoptive parents, Melanie and Matt Capobianco after being reunited at an undisclosed location September 23, 2013 in this handout provided by the Capobianco family September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Capobianco Family/Handout via Reuters

Four-year-old Veronica, is shown with her adoptive parents, Melanie and Matt Capobianco after being reunited at an undisclosed location September 23, 2013 in this handout provided by the Capobianco family September 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Capobianco Family/Handout via Reuters

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The adoptive parents of a 4-year-old Native American girl will take her back to South Carolina from Oklahoma with a police escort after winning a cross-cultural custody battle fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a family spokeswoman and sheriff's official said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Matt and Melanie Capobianco said they will not announce when they intend to leave with Veronica, who lived with them for the first two years of her life before a court granted custody to her biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. The girl was returned to them Monday.

On Tuesday, the Capobianco family released a statement asking for privacy in a case that has drawn international attention.

"Despite our differences, and everything that has happened over the last several months, we all love Veronica and want what is best for her," the family said. "We are all doing well and our focus now is on healing and getting our life back to normal."

Two South Carolina sheriff's deputies and a state Law Enforcement Division agent have arrived in Oklahoma to travel with the family, said Major James Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff's office on Tuesday.

"Obviously, it's an issue that's created a lot of emotion," Brady said. "It helps to have deputies on hand to make sure that they get home safely."

The Capobiancos had been in Oklahoma for the past month trying to win back custody of Veronica. After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in their favor on Monday, Veronica was returned to them by her biological father.

Legal issues and further potential challenges remain in the case, which already has been heard in numerous South Carolina courts and Oklahoma district courts, the high courts of both states, Cherokee tribal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

LEGAL OPTIONS

Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, faces an extradition order to South Carolina on charges of custodial interference for refusing to hand over Veronica earlier this summer, after her adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized.

Brown is due in court October 3 for a hearing on those charges.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said Brown still has a pending appeal asking the state of Oklahoma not to recognize the adoption, and attorneys advocating for him met on Tuesday to discuss "a myriad of legal options."

Brown will ultimately be the one to decide whether to keep fighting for Veronica, Hembree said.

"Dusten makes those calls about what is in Veronica's best interest," Hembree said. "It's a situation that no father wants to ever find himself in."

The Capobiancos arranged a private adoption of Veronica with her birth mother, who is Hispanic, before the child was born in September 2009.

Brown, who was not married to Veronica's biological mother, signed away his parental rights but later said he did not know about the planned adoption. He contested the adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act, which aims to prevent the breakup of Indian families, and was granted custody of Veronica by a South Carolina court in 2011.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the act did not apply in part because Brown had not provided support to the birth mother or the child. South Carolina courts finalized the adoption in July, and Oklahoma courts ordered the transfer of Veronica back to her adoptive parents.

The transfer of the child came hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted a stay on Monday that had kept Veronica in the state, where she and Brown were living on tribal land in Tahlequah with relatives.

In a statement late on Monday, Hembree said the hand-over of Veronica was emotional but peaceful.

"Our hope is that this chapter has ended and both families can move on," said Jennifer Cherock, a spokeswoman for the Capobiancos.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Gunna Dickson, Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman)

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