Tribal court agrees to return baby police had seized from parents at Miami hospital

Justin Johnson, 36, and his Miccosukee girlfriend, Rebecca Sanders, 28, display pictures of newborn Ingrid Ronan Johnson. She was taken from Baptist Hospital under an order issued by the Miccosukee tribal court at the request of the child's grandmother, Betty Osceola, a high-ranking tribal member. The couple has reported the seizure to Miami-Dade police.  Emily Michot - emichot@miamiherald.com
Justin Johnson, 36, and his Miccosukee girlfriend, Rebecca Sanders, 28, display pictures of newborn Ingrid Ronan Johnson. She was taken from Baptist Hospital under an order issued by the Miccosukee tribal court at the request of the child's grandmother, Betty Osceola, a high-ranking tribal member. The couple has reported the seizure to Miami-Dade police. Emily Michot - emichot@miamiherald.com
Published March 22 2018
Updated March 22 2018

Baby Ingrid will soon be back with her parents.

Four days after Miccosukee police detectives seized the newborn at Baptist Hospital – sparking outrage from South Florida to Washington, D.C. – a tribal court agreed to return the child to her outraged parents.

The removal of the child drew criticism from officials such as Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who believed the tribe overstepped its authority by seizing the newborn outside the confines of the reservation.

"I’m beyond ecstatic," the baby’s father, Justin Johnson, told the Herald on Thursday night.

The decision was made after an hours-long hearing at the tribal court on the Miccosukee reservation, deep in the heart of the Everglades. The small Indian tribe, which numbers about 600 members, is considered a sovereign nation and has its own court system and police department.

Read More: Miami hospital allowed tribal police to kidnap newborn baby, parents say

Ingrid Ronan Johnson was born at Baptist Hospital on March 16, to a Miccosukee mother named Rebecca Sanders, and Johnson, who is white.

But the parents told the Miami Herald that the maternal grandmother, tribe member Betty Osceola, had always disliked Johnson and grew angry that he was the hospital. She responded by asking a tribal court for an "emergency order granting temporary custody" of Baby Ingrid to herself.

The court agreed, saying "it was in the best interest" of the baby to be placed into the custody of the grandmother. The order did not say Sanders posed a danger to her newborn.

Two Miccosukee police detectives on Sunday responded to the hospital. They were accompanied by Miami-Dade police for backup to carry out the order. County cops said they were initially told it was a "federal court order" – not a tribal court order.

Baptist Hospital acknowledged it received a "court order," but insisted that they cooperated because the county police was there. "We obeyed law enforcement. It is our hospital’s policy to cooperate with Miami-Dade law enforcement as they enforce court orders," according to a statement.

The Miccosukee tribe said its court was legally allowed to seize the baby under a federal law that mandates states honor tribal protection orders with "full faith and credit." But legal experts say Indian tribes are supposed to first present such orders to a local state judge, who would review the paperwork and endorse the document.

"It is sent over to the state or city jurisdiction with a request to essentially execute the tribal order," said Mike Andrews, the general counsel for the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, speaking in general. "In order to do that, they need a judge on the state or city side to acquiesce."

The law also allows the person being served the order to have "reasonable notice and the opportunity to be heard" by a court. In this case, Sanders did not know about the court ruling until Miccosukee police showed up to the hospital room.

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