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Parents whose baby was seized by Miccosukee tribal police are now suing

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Baby Ingrid Johnson made national news when Miccosukee tribal police seized the newborn from her Indian mother -- at a Miami hospital more than 30 miles from the reservation. Four days later, under intense public pressure, a tribal court relented and returned the child.

The baby's parents on Friday filed a lawsuit against tribal members and employees, including the Miccosukee's lawyer, as well as Baptist Hospital for allowing the "armed kidnapping" of the child "out of the arms of her mother."

The lawsuit seeks damages for the emotional distress caused to Ingrid and her parents during the ordeal.

"The abduction and false imprisonment of Baby Ingrid occurred during a critical imprinting stage of that child's life," according to the lawsuit. "Baby Ingrid, because of this traumatic experience, now refused to breastfeed. This deprives her of important nutrients and the other positive benefits of breastfeeding."

The removal of the baby 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.

The small Indian tribe, which numbers about 600 members, is considered a sovereign nation and has its own court system and police department, which generally do not have jurisdiction off the federally designated reservation deep in the Everglades. Over the years, the tribe has squabbled with state authorities repeatedly over jurisdictional issues.

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The tribe has insisted its court had the legal authority to take the baby, although Indian-law experts have told the Miami Herald that the Miccosukee order needed to be first reviewed and endorsed by a state-court judge in Miami-Dade.

The baby's removal from the hospital was first reported by the Herald. The child was born at Baptist Hospital in Kendall on March 16, to a Miccosukee mother named Rebecca Sanders, and Justin Johnson, who is white.

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

The tribal court agreed. The order did not say Sanders posed a danger to her newborn, instead describing Johnson as a domestic-violence threat who had been ordered to stay away from the reservation.

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