A South Florida couple is desperate to be reunited with their newborn daughter – less than one week after they say the child was removed from a Miami-Dade hospital by members of the Miccosukee Police Department based on a tribal court order from the baby’s grandmother.
Rebecca Sanders and Justin Johnson tell the Miami Herald that they have filed complaints with various agencies – including Miami-Dade Police and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs – after their 2-day-old daughter, Ingrid Ronan Johnson, was taken by officers from Baptist Hospital in Kendall on Sunday.
Sanders says that officers, along with hospital security and staff, came into her room shortly after Ingrid was taken by a doctor.
"He said something was filed where I lost custody of my daughter and I said 'how, I'm in the hospital, I haven't been given any notification, no hearing, nothing whatsoever,'" Sanders said Wednesday. "And he said he doesn't have an order, hasn't seen one and doesn't have it on him but was told to come to the hospital to take my daughter."
The mother said she was not given a copy of the order that was issued by a Miccosukee judge based on a filing from Sanders’ own mother, Betty Osceola – who the couple claims is upset and does not want Johnson, who is white, in the child’s life. A copy was emailed to Sanders on Monday.
"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,” Johnson told the paper.
In a statement Wednesday, Baptist Health said the officers were enforcing a court order for the 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," the hospital's statement read. "It is our hospital’s policy to cooperate with Miami-Dade law enforcement as they enforce court orders."
According to the order, the grandmother claimed the father was violent toward Sanders while she was pregnant. She convinced a Miccosukee judge to grant her temporary custody.
"This is what you would expect to see in any state court, in Florida, when it comes to the well-being of the children, there is a concern they are either going to end up in dependency court, or a relative getting temporary custody of them through the family courts," said an attorney for the grandmother, Spencer West.
Sanders and Johnson denied those claims, with Johnson calling them "false."
Lawyers for the Miccosukee tribe did not respond to the paper when asked for a comment. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in tribal court on the matter.
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez issued a statement that an “immediate inquiry” into what took place had begun to determine if there is anything the agency can do.
Johnson said he was able to be there for the birth of his daughter, but when Osceola – who owns a major airboat tour operation on the reservation – saw him at the hospital she became upset and asked for security to remove him. Despite Sanders saying she wants him a part of their daughter’s life, security told Johnson on Saturday it would be in “their best interest” for him to leave.
Sanders was escorted from the hospital moments after the baby was taken and proceeded to go with Johnson to a nearby police station to file their report.
The Miccosukee Tribe, which currently has less than 600 members, does not fall under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida – which has led to issues in the past with officials in Miami-Dade and across the state.
Sanders claims her mother does not live on the reservation and lives in Collier County – which would allow for the state to intervene. If the baby is with the grandmother on tribal land, only the federal government can get involved and possibly take the child back.
Sanders says her daughter does not have enough Miccosukee blood to qualify as a member.