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Parents file lawsuit after baby girl taken from Baptist Hospital by tribal police

Couple accuses tribe, hospital of 'intentional infliction of emotional distress'

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The South Florida parents of a newborn baby girl who was taken by Miccosukee tribe police officers from Baptist Hospital last month filed a lawsuit Friday against the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and Baptist Health.

Justin Johnson and Rebecca Sanders are being represented by attorneys Richard Wolfe of Wolfe Law Miami and Maximilian Steiner of Steiner Law.

The attorneys held a news conference Friday afternoon, where they accused Miccosukee Tribe officials of "false imprisonment, conspiracy and defamation."

The couple is also accusing the tribe and Baptist of "intentional infliction of emotional distress," a news release stated. 

"Baptist faces additional allegations of negligence in the discharge of Baby Ingrid, in the release of her medical records and in the failure to mitigate the release of her medical records to the Tribe from the hospital," the news release stated.

"We feel for everyone involved in this challenging circumstance," Baptist Health spokeswoman Dori Robau Alvarez said in a statement. "It is our policy to be in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations and to work in accordance with the highest ethical and moral standards. We are unable to comment on the specifics of pending litigation."

Ingrid Ronan Johnson was born at Baptist Hospital in Kendall on March 16.

Attorneys for the couple said she was taken by tribe leaders a day later.

"(I'm) fearful they will take her again," Johnson told reporters Friday.

Officers took the baby to be with her maternal grandmother, who the couple said was displeased that Ingrid has a white father. They reversed their decision four days later amid public outcry, including from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who called the move a kidnapping. 

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."

Rubio and the Miami-Dade Police Department disputed parts of the statement, claiming Miami-Dade police 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. 

Sanders 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 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," Rubio tweeted before the baby was returned to her parents. "They lied to police and hospital claiming to have such approval." 

According to the baby's parents, 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. 

Despite the parents' claims against Sanders' mother, Betty Osceola, the tribe cited a domestic violence protection order against Johnson and a criminal trespass order to support the grandmother's fears.

"Up until this happened, I was completely unaware of any order," Johnson said. 

According to Johnson, he was never served with a restraining order and he claimed any allegations of domestic violence against him were false.

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.

"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 Miccosukee tribal court records. 

"The grandmother really is looking out for the best interest of the children," Osceola's attorney, Spencer West, said last month. "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.

Osceola, a prominent member of the tribe, said she would appeal the tribal court's ruling to return Ingrid to her parents.

She still has custody of her daughter's two older children.

Sanders' attorneys did not want her to elaborate to reporters Friday about her relationship with her mother for legal reasons, but Sanders said that her ultimate goal is to have custody of all of her children.

She said she also lives in fear, worrying that someone might come for her baby girl again. 

"It has been very traumatic, and I'm still fearful of anything that may happen --  if they can take her again or not," Sanders said. 

Sanders said she is also afraid to go anywhere alone now and just wants to protect her daughter. 


About the Author:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.