Miami Herald Video: Remember when Baby Ingrid was seized by Miccosukee tribal police? Now her dad is suing

Parents of Miccosukee child continue to press lawsuit over removal from hospital

Citizens and officials of the Miccosukee Tribe are being sued in connection with a child welfare dispute that drew national attention last year.

A newborn Miccosukee girl, known as Baby Ingrid, was taken from her parents in order to protect the child from a domestic violence situation, the tribe said in March 2018. The removal took place at the hospital in Florida where the child was born.

The girl has since been returned to her parents -- Rebecca Sanders, who is Micosukee, and Justin Johnson, who is non-Indian -- but they claim the action was illegal. They are suing various citizens and representatives of the tribe, along with Baptist Hospital of Miami, in Florida court.

“Simply put, the suit alleges that Baptist traded Baby Ingrid to protect a profitable business relationship with the tribe,” attorney Maximilan Steiner, who is representing the parents, told The Miami Herald.

Miccosukee Indian Village in Florida. Photo: Paul Everett

The defendants include Baby Ingrid's grandmother, who went to Miccosukee tribal court and secured the order that resulted in the removal of the child from the hospital. Documents posted by Local10 last year included an allegation of domestic violence when Sanders was pregnant.

Sanders has two older children who were "afraid" of Johnson, according to those documents. Those siblings -- whose biological father is Miccosukee -- were at one point placed in the custody of their Miccosukee grandmothers as a result of the allegations of abuse in the home.

“The intent of the minor children’s grandmother was protect the children from the abuse by the infant’s father, and to get help for their mother who is a victim of domestic violence,” maternal grandmother Betty Osceola said in a statement to The Herald last year.

Numerous studies, including those conducted by the federal government, show that Native women are victimized at rates far higher than any other group in the United States. The majority of their abusers are non-Indian, according to the research cited by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

But tribes have lacked authority over non-Indians as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe. The situation led Congress to recognize tribal jurisdiction with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.

The law also requires tribal court protection orders to be recognized by states and other territories, so long as certain conditions, including due process for parties involved, are met. Some observers in Florida -- notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who accused the tribe of kidnapping Baby Ingrid -- -- have questioned whether those conditions have been met in the Miccosukee case.

According to the tribal court documents posted by Local10, Johnson was provided an opportunity to be heard after the allegations of abuse last year. He apparently chose not to participate -- the order notes that he "admitted, by virtue of his inexcusable default after proper notice," to the incident against Sanders while she was pregnant.

The tribal judge ordered Baby Ingrid to be returned to her parents a few days after she was born. According to news reports, Johnson participated this time around.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include the tribal court judge who signed the custody orders at issue in the dispute and the tribe's general counsel. Baptist Hospital filed a motion last October to be removed from the case but a decision hasn't been made.

The original complaint was filed by Johnson on March 13, 2018. It was amended to include Sanders as a defendant on September 27, 2018.

Johnson and Sanders have since sought permission to amend their complaint again. A ruling has not been issued on that request.

The case is Justin Johnson v. Michael Gay, et al, Local Case Number: 2018-013848-CA-01; State Case Number: 132018CA01384800001.

Read More on the Story
Miami-Dade faces lawsuit over ‘kidnapping’ of Miccosukee baby from Baptist hospital (The Miami Herald February 19, 2019)

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