South Florida parents Justin Johnson and Rebecca Sanders say that officers of the Miccosukee Police Department forcibly removed their newborn baby from a Miami-Dade hospital last week, according to the Miami Herald.
The removal was reportedly based on a tribal court order requested by the child's maternal grandmother, who is a member of the tribe.
Johnson, 36, and Sanders, 28, now have their baby daughter back, but the two missed out on nearly a week of bonding with their infant after the tribe — which considers itself a "sovereign nation" — removed her at just 2 days old.
How did this happen?
According to Johnson and Sanders, who spoke to the Herald about their ordeal, police officers showed up at the Florida hospital just two days after baby Ingrid Ronan Johnson was born.
The officers said that they had a court order to remove the child and place her in the custody of her maternal grandmother.
According to the Herald, the order was not signed by a Florida judge, but by a tribal court judge located 32 miles away — and the cops were not Miami-Dade officers, but officers from the Miccosukee reservation.
Sanders said that she didn't even initially see a copy of the order when the officers arrived at the facility.
Regardless, the hospital allowed the 2-day-old child to be taken away.
What did the parents do?
The Herald reported that Johnson and Sanders filed complaints with the Miami-Dade police, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and state prosecutors.
According to the outlet, the child's parents said that the tribal order was a "sham" and crafted by the child's maternal grandmother, who was reportedly angry that the child's father is white.
"I’m still trying to wrap my head around how this has happened," Johnson told the Herald. "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, who is a tribal member, added, "I feel like I have no rights. I thought the tribe was to protect its people, not use its own rulings to control its people."
What did the hospital, police say?
According to the Herald, the incident is under review by state authorities to determine what steps may be taken next, and Miami-Dade detectives are investigating the incident.
Dori Alvarez, a spokesperson for the hospital, would not commit to discussing specifics, citing HIPAA laws.
However, the Herald reported that Alvarez did say that the tribal officers were accompanied by members of the Miami-Dade Police that fateful day.
"We obeyed law enforcement," Alvarez told the outlet. "It is our hospital’s policy to cooperate with Miami-Dade law enforcement as they enforce court orders."
A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department told the Herald that they, indeed, had officers present the day the child was removed from the hospital, but said that the department was misled.
According to the outlet, a tribal police officer called the local precinct and requested backup while carrying out a "federal court order" at the local hospital, noting that the child's father could possibly be a domestic threat.
Miami-Dade Capt. Sergio Alvarez said that his officers accompanied the tribal officers "solely in the role of keeping the peace."
What did Sen. Rubio say?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) chimed in on the matter and expressed his outrage Wednesday on Twitter.
"#Miccosukee tribe police used tribal court order to kidnap newborn baby from parents in #Miami hospital," Rubio wrote. "They don’t have any jurisdiction outside reservation. I’m in contact with fed officials & this won’t end well for tribe if they don’t return child asap."
#Miccosukee tribe police used tribal court order to kidnap newborn baby from parents in #Miami hospital. They don’t have any jurisdiction outside reservation. I’m in contact with fed officials & this won’t end well for tribe if they don’t return child asaphttps://t.co/RPaL5tqWQV
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 21, 2018
A couple of days later, Rubio added, "#Miccosukee say they kidnapped baby to protect from abusive father. But why did they take her from mother too? Tribal court has no power outside reservation without state or fed court approval. They lied to police & hospital claiming to have such approval."
#Miccosukee say they kidnapped baby to protect from abusive father. But why did they take her from mother too? Tribal court has no power outside reservation without state or fed court approval. They lied to police & hospital claiming to have such approvalhttps://t.co/MGhBfhZakP
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 23, 2018
The tribe's legal adviser reportedly refused to comment on the matter when reached by the Herald.
Is there more?
The Herald reported that the child's parents said tensions between Johnson and Sanders' mother escalated in recent months, and reported that Johnson and Sanders have had a spotted history over the last few years.
According to the outlet, law enforcement arrested Sanders three years ago for misdemeanor battery on Johnson, but the case was later dropped. In November, Sanders also asked the tribal court to grant a restraining order against Johnson, preventing him from entering the reservation. Sanders was reportedly coerced into doing so by her mother.
The couple ultimately decided to split up, but remained on civil terms and agreed to co-parent the child.
How did the parents get the baby back?
The Herald reported Thursday that baby Ingrid was returned to Johnson and Sander after the tribal court agreed to give the infant back.
The outlet reported that the decision to return the child was made after "an hourslong hearing" at the tribal court on the reservation, where Sanders testified about her "bloodline and history."
The court, according to the Herald, ruled that while it wouldn't try to bar Johnson from seeing the child, the tribe "maintained jurisdiction over the child."
Johnson, who is ecstatic that the tribe returned his child, said that the ruling "makes me uneasy because that means they can pull this stunt again."
The tribe issued a news release after the hearing, which reaffirmed its commitment to protecting "native children and their families," noting that their decision to remove the child was "in the best interest of the minor children and protected them from any future harm."
"The Miccosukee Tribe will continue to work with Ms. Sanders and her family to help them reunify and will continue to protect their native children and families," a portion of the news release read.
According to the outlet, authorities will still look into the immediate events that led up to the tribal court removing the child from Johnson and Sanders, and will examine whether the tribe had authority and jurisdiction to do what they did to begin with.
The Herald wrote that "the tribe insists its court order was legal under a federal law that mandates states honor tribal protection orders with 'full faith and credit.'"