On Friday, November 21 another hearing is scheduled in the Iowa District Court in Plymouth County in an interstate custody showdown that has sparked national outrage among tribes and Indian child welfare advocates over the return of disabled twin brothers to the custody of their non-Indian father, who has six founded cases of child abuse on his record. One of the boys is wheelchair bound with cerebral palsy, while the other is blind and has autism.
Last June, Audre’y Eby, the twins’ Rosebud Sioux mother who resides in Nebraska, was jailed for a week in Iowa on kidnapping charges for refusing to return the boys back to their father after officials in Nebraska threatened her with child endangerment charges when they found evidence of abuse during an emergency room visit, in which blood and bruises were found on one of the boys’ groin area. The boys testified to officials in both states that their father’s girlfriend had kicked one of them after she caught him masturbating and that the father had threatened to “cut his privates off.”
Trapped between competing interstate jurisdictions, Eby said she had no choice but to keep her children, even though she subsequently went to jail in Iowa for trying to protect them from their abusers.
Eby kept the boys in Nebraska for a time, but subsequently moved them to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in order to protect them from their father and his live-in girlfriend, both of whom have been placed on the Iowa Central Abuse Registry for physical abuse, denial of critical care and failure to provide proper supervision to the twins.
In early October, the boys, who are now 17, were ordered to appear before Judge Edward Jacobson for testimony at a hearing, with which Eby complied. But rather than allowing the boys to testify as ordered, Jacobson instead ordered half a dozen police officers to physically remove the boys from their mother’s custody in the hallway of the courthouse in front of at least a dozen bystanders, who were shocked that the incident took place in such a public manner with no plan for a peaceful transfer, as usually is required under these circumstances. Eby said both boys were struggling and screaming to stay with her as they were being led away by law enforcement.
“Judge Jacobson said ‘I don’t allow children to testify in my court,’” said Eby. “The order was a ruse to get me to bring them [to Iowa] so they could take them from me.”
Subsequently, in a one-page ruling issued by Judge Edward Jacobson that only vaguely refers to the evidence that was presented, the boys were immediately ordered back to their father that day. Jacobson only mentioned that Eby had “absconded” with the children, in spite of the fact that the State of Nebraska had threatened her with child endangerment if she returned them to their father. Judge Jacobson also ordered that “Mr. Courtright shall have full care, custody, and control of both children. Visistation [sic] shall be at Mr. Courtright’s discretion,” in spite of six founded charges of abuse on father’s record.
Eby has had no contact with her children since that time and that the boys’ father has threatened her that she will “never see them again” if she continues with the case.
“One can say that these young men fell through the cracks,” says Frank LaMere, the director of the Four Directions Community Center in Sioux City, Iowa. “The people over in Plymouth County absolutely knew what was happening to these boys and they turned a blind eye. The DHS and the officers of the court are very aware of the abuse charges against their father, but they feel no responsibility whatsoever in spite of the fact that these allegations have been confirmed and are on the record.”
LaMere says that he intends to be at the hearing on Friday, along with other members of the Native community to show their support for the twins and their mother, who they feel is victim of the racist policies toward Native parents in courtrooms across the country.
“If a Native man had six allegations of abuse on his record, he would be serving five to 10 years in prison,” said LaMere, who is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. “But we have a white father and a white girlfriend with six founded charges and what does Judge Jacobson do? He gives the abused children back to their perpetrators and throws the Indian mother in jail. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of Indian child welfare experience.”
Next week, Eby and LaMere are scheduled to attend the 12th Annual March to Honor Lost Children in Sioux City. For 12 years, says LaMere, it has been necessary to organize these marches and events to raise awareness of the challenges faced by Native community members who find themselves locked in a never-ending battle with child welfare systems across the country.
“We have worked hard to build a good relationship with officials here in Woodbury County,” said LaMere. “But there are countless counties across the country that ignore the Indian Child Welfare Act. Sadly, they forget that ICWA is not a ‘defense’ strategy – it is federal law. And we want to ensure that they are attentive to the requirements of the law.”