Did the Miccosukee tribe have authority to take a newborn baby from parents?

Legal experts said the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida committed a crime when they allegedly took two-day-old newborn Ingrid Johnson from her mother at a Kendall hospital last week.

WPLG reports that the baby was born March 16 to Justin C. Johnson, 36, and Rebecca K. Sanders, 28. Sanders is 50 percent Miccosukee while Johnson is white and has no ties to the tribe. Days after her birth, officials with the tribe took the child and placed her in her grandmother’s care.

Attorney Spencer West said his client, Betty Osceola, just wanted to keep her three grandchildren safe. In doing so, the grandmother sought a court order for temporary custody, alleging that the baby’s father was abusive.

“The grandmother doesn’t want full custody of the baby, the grandmother doesn’t want full custody of the older children. She wants the children to go back to the mother, but she doesn’t want them to be subjected to abuse,” West told WTVJ Friday.

Osceola called her daughter’s at-home situation “volatile,” claiming that her daughter has been arrested for domestic violence and that Johnson has broken her nose. She also claimed that Sanders’ two older children, who aren’t fathered by Johnson, have reported Johnson for abuse.

The tribe reversed their decision four days later—after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said the tribe had no grounds to carry out a tribal court order on tribal land.

Legal experts and two ex-Miccosukee police chiefs who spoke to the Miami Herald agreed.

While the tribe cannot be sued in state court, the parents could file claims against the hospital—and even Miami-Dade police—for allowing the child to be taken by someone other than its parents.

Bradford Cohen, Sanders’ lawyer, reportedly said he believes that the hospital committed the most egregious act. However, Baptist Hospital said in a statement that they were told that the court order was federal, not tribal, and that it was presented in the presence of county police officers.

“We obeyed law enforcement. It is our hospital’s policy to cooperate with Miami-Dade law enforcement as they enforce court orders,” the hospital said.

Mike Andrews, the chief counsel and staff director for the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs said the order has no immediate power outside of the reservation. For it to have any standing, tribal officials should’ve had it endorsed by a local judge, Andrews said.

Furthermore, William Brady, a Miami-based lawyer who won a high-profile child-custody case against the Miccosukee tribe, said the order didn’t mention any findings of abuse or neglect.

“It’s another case where the tribe summary made a decision without looking at the circumstances and giving the parties due process,” he said.

Conversely, Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez told the Herald that they found that the tribe was within their authority to serve the court order. Perez claimed that Miami’s U.S. Attorney’s Office backed their finding.

[Featured Image: Justin C. Johnson, Rebecca K. Sanders/Emily Michot/Miami Herald via AP]