MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The South Florida parents of a newborn baby girl are in the midst of a shocking custody battle after the baby, born to a Miccosukee mother and a white father, was taken from them at the hospital just two days after her birth.
Ingrid Ronan Johnson was born at Baptist Hospital in Kendall on March 16 to Rebecca Saunders and Justin Johnson who are both distraught over the series of the events.
Saunders mother, Betty Osceola, did not want Johnson to be a part of the child’s life.
Osceola, the parents claim, got a Miccosukee tribal court judge to grant her custody of the baby without the parents’ consent or knowledge.
Two days after the baby’s birth, police detectives from the Miccosukee police force, showed up at the hospital with a court order to remove the baby.
“A police officer and a few security guards came in the room, asking me if I knew what was going on and I said ‘I don’t know what going on,’” Saunders said. “He told me I no longer have custody of my daughter.”
The hospital allowed the baby to be taken without providing a copy of the court order, according to Saunders.
Now nobody knows where the baby and her grandmother are.
“This is a woman who numerous times has told Rebecca straight to her face ‘I’ll shoot that white man,’” Johnson said of Osceola. “But I didn’t think she was evil enough to do something like this to her own daughter.”
Saunders said Osceola lives off the reservation, in Collier County. If the baby is on the Miccosukee reservation itself, the state has no power — only federal authorities have jurisdiction there.
The parents have filed complaints with Miami-Dade police, state prosecutors and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how this has happened,” Johnson, 36, said tearfully to CBS4 news partner the Miami 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.”
“I feel like I have no rights,” Saunders told the Herald. “I thought the tribe was to protect its people, not use its own rulings to control its people.”
Miami-Dade Director Juan J. Perez said his department had initiated an immediate inquiry into what happened.
“Upon being made aware of this incident, I have directed the command staff of the involved districts to conduct an immediate inquiry into the matter. Once we have additional information, we can determine what, if any, additional steps are necessary. The Miami-Dade Police Department remains committed to the highest performance standards, ethical conduct, and truthfulness in all relationships,” wrote Director Perez in a statement.
Former U.S. Attorney David Weinstein Discusses Miccosukee Baby Custody Situation
Late Wednesday, Senator Marco Rubio sent out a message on Twitter, using the word ‘kidnapping’ while issuing the tribe a warning.
The incident is the latest test of the legal authority of the court and police department with the sovereign Miccosukee tribe, which has clashed with state authorities for years over jurisdiction.
Investigators and the child’s parents also have questions for Baptist hospital, which allowed tribal police to remove the baby from her birth mother.
“For the hospital to hide behind, to say ‘we saw an order from the tribal court’ ….we’re not on tribal property,” attorney Brad Cohen said. “A tribal police officer has no jurisdiction outside of tribal property. We don’t know whether or not Miami-Dade escorted him or they came after the fact, but for the hospital to hide behind that is the most disgusting display that I’ve seen in a very long time.”
A hospital spokesman declined comment because of federal patient privacy laws.
On Wednesday Baptist Hospital gave the following statement to CBS4:
“On Sunday, March 18, at approximately 11 a.m., two Miami-Dade County Police officers arrived on our campus with officers from the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida to enforce a court order regarding a child’s custody. We obeyed law enforcement. Baptist Hospital falls under the jurisdiction of the Miami-Dade County Police Department and complies with state and federal laws. It is our hospital’s policy to cooperate with Miami-Dade law enforcement as they enforce court orders.
“Due to patient privacy laws, we cannot comment on the specific details of any patient care.”
No one else involved the case, including the tribe’s legal adviser, and the office of Miccosukee chairman Billy Cypress, returned any phone calls or emails seeking comment.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said her office is reviewing the case.
Saunders has two other children, an 11-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship who live on the Seminole reservation with her brother.
Saunders said her mother was upset that Johnson was at the hospital during the birth of his daughter and claims Osceola threatened to take her kids away.
One day after Ingrid’s birth, a nursing supervisor told Johnson “they had received phone calls that it would be in their best interest to have me removed,” Johnson told the Herald.
He did leave, then the next day, two Miccosukee police detectives walked in with hospital security and staff and told Saunders, ‘Your baby is being taken. She is no longer in your custody. You are not the mother anymore,’” Saunders recalled.
She identified the lead detective as Michael Gay, whom state records show has been with the tribal department since 2009. He could not be reached for comment. According to Sanders, he did not have a copy of the Miccosukee court order stripping her of custody of the newborn.
He also said if she went to the reservation, she would need to enter drug rehab. “I asked him for what. I don’t do drugs,” Saunders said.
The detectives left. Within minutes, she said, hospital security and uniformed Miami-Dade police officers escorted her out of the hospital; it is unclear who called the county officers, or if they knew the specifics of the tribal conflict.
“Last time I saw my daughter was the last time I got to hold her and that was Saturday,” Johnson said.
Johnson picked up Saunders and the two immediately went to file a report at the Hammocks district police station.
It was not until Monday that the tribal court e-mailed Saunders a copy of the legal documents.
A petition filed by Osceola alleged that Saunders’ autistic son had suddenly revealed that the parents had struck him — something both parents vehemently deny. The order stripping custody does not say Saunders did anything wrong, but stressed it is in the “best interest” of all three children that they remain in the custody of Osceola.
Former Miccosukee Police Chief Dave Ward, who is not involved in the case, said tribal court orders are not valid outside the reservation.
“In my opinion, the Miccosukee officers needed to present the tribal order to a state or federal judge in Dade, who would review it and issue an order allowing Miami-Dade police to follow through with removing the baby.”
Ward also said he believed the hospital opened itself up to liability by allowing the child to be removed.