MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Ingrid Ronan Johnson was two days old when the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida decided to take her from her 28-year-old mother at Baptist Hospital in Kendall. Her mother was in tears. Her father was distraught.
Officers took her into tribal land to be with her grandmother. They reversed their decision four days later. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who is aware of the sovereign tribe's reputation for not cooperating with authorities in Miami-Dade, called the move a kidnap.
The Miccosukee business council members defended the tribe's actions claiming that the tribal social services department acted "with the cooperation and fully informed involvement of the Miami-Dade Police Department and Baptist Hospital staff," and added that the tribal court's order was "appropriate."
The girl's parents, Rubio and the Miami-Dade Police Department dispute parts of the statement. Officers were there upon the request of a tribal sergeant who reportedly said he needed them to help "keep the peace" to enforce a federal order -- not a tribal order. The mother didn't get a chance to dispute the tribal order, and she said she didn't get a copy of it until a day after the traumatic separation.
"Miccosukee say they kidnaped 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," Rubio tweeted late Thursday night. "They lied to police and hospital claiming to have such approval."
The baby, Ingrid Ronan Johnson, was born in Miami-Dade County March 16. The tribe took action even though Ingrid is only about 25 percent Miccosukee. Her dad, Justin C. Johnson, isn't related to the tribe and was born in Missouri. Her mother, Rebecca K. Sanders, is 50 percent Miccosukee.
Sanders said she believes it all happened, because her Miccosukee grandmother, Betty L. Osceola, an influential member of the tribe, was unhappy that Ingrid's father was white, and she didn't trust him.
"Justin has been telling [my grandson] bad things about me and some of my family members, saying we are bad people," Osceola wrote in her March 16 petition, according to Miccossukee tribal court records.
Osceola reported that Sanders' two other children, ages 12 and 11, accused Johnson, who is not their biological father, of hitting them "sometime" in February. The tribe cites a domestic violence protection order against Johnson and a criminal trespass order to support Osceola's fears.
"The grandmother really is looking out for the best interest of the children," said Spencer West, Osceola's attorney. "I think that’s clear from having the two older children. She’s going to do what she has to do to protect these children."
Tribal Judge Jane W. O. Billie signed the order March 17 giving joint custody of the three children to Osceola and Deedee Kelly, the paternal Miccosukee grandmother of Ingrid's two siblings.
Without an investigation or hearing, the tribal judge ordered that Sanders and Johnson only be allowed to visit their baby under the supervision of the Miccosukee Social Services "or any child protective services agency approved by the tribe."
The order didn't mention why there was a need to separate the baby from Sanders. Johnson said he was heartbroken and the allegations that he had physically and emotionally abused the children were false and hurtful. He was glad to have his daughter back.
"I think that’s as close to hell as I’m going to get to," Johnson said. "Not knowing where she was exactly, not knowing how she was."
The parents believe the hospital should have never handed over their baby girl to tribal authorities and the Miami-Dade police officers who were in the hospital shouldn't have allowed them to do so. They are also concerned about the determination that the tribe still has jurisdiction over the baby.
"No hospital should have handed over a baby with an order that wasn't certified," said Bradford Cohen, the attorney representing the parents.
Osceola, a member of the tribe's Panther clan and an environmentalist who operates Buffalo Tiger Airboats in tribal land, isn't afraid of a fight. She is not giving up, and her attorney said she will be appealing the tribal court's ruling.