MIAMI (AP) — A tribal court for a sovereign Indian nation in Florida ordered the return of an infant Thursday that was taken from her parents, a Miccosukee mother and a white father, at a Miami-area hospital.
The girl’s father, Justin Johnson, told the Miami Herald that the decision was made after an hourlong hearing at the tribal court on the Miccosukee reservation.
“I’m beyond ecstatic,” Johnson said.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the child would be returned.
Two days after the girl’s March 16 birth, tribal detectives entered Baptist Hospital, which is outside the tribe’s reservation in the Everglades, and took Ingrid Ronan Johnson from her parents, Rebecca Sanders and Johnson. The Herald reported that the Miccosukee police were accompanied by Miami-Dade officers and carried a court order. Miami-Dade now says its officers were misled.
The parents spent four days telling police, prosecutors and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs that the tribal order was concocted by the baby’s grandmother, Betty Osceola, to keep Johnson out of the girl’s life. The tribal order granted custody to Osceola.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how this has happened,” Johnson said earlier. “I can’t even begin to explain how hard this has been. I don’t see how people of the Miccosukee tribe can look me in the face and tell me this is OK.”
Sanders, 28, said she too feels like she has no rights. “I thought the tribe was to protect its people, not use its own rulings to control its people,” she told the Herald.
No phone listing could be found for Osceola in a public records search by the Associated Press
Fort Lauderdale attorney Bradford Cohen, who represents Sanders, said the baby was missing critical bonding time with her mother.
“We don’t know the health of the baby. We don’t know if she is receiving proper care,” Cohen said.
Authorities are reviewing what happened at the hospital, which said in a statement that its officials followed a court order. Miami-Dade police said its officers were asked to provide backup while tribal officers executed a “federal court order,” but the order came from the tribe, not the federal government.
The tribe’s police chief hasn’t returned a phone call from The Associated Press.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a tweet on Wednesday night that the tribe used its court to “kidnap” the baby.
“They don’t have any jurisdiction outside reservation,” Rubio tweeted. “I’m in contact with fed officials & this won’t end well for tribe if they don’t’ return child asap.”
Baby Ingrid’s parents have had conflicts and said they are no longer a couple, but remain amicable and plan to co-parent the girl. The Herald reports Sanders was arrested three years ago for misdemeanor battery on Johnson, and she told the newspaper her mother had pressured her to get a restraining order barring Johnson from the reservation.
Sanders said her mother became agitated when she saw Johnson at the hospital, and that Osceola had hospital security remove him. Johnson said he wouldn’t leave until he saw his baby.
“I remember kissing her forehead and telling her, ‘Daddy will see you soon,'” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen my daughter since.”