April 12, 2015
FARGO — The standoff continues.
On one side is a Fargo mother who refused a drug test, then fled with her two daughters to a South Dakota Indian reservation out of fear of losing custody of the girls. On the other side are the two Fargo fathers who desperately want their children back, but have been blocked by a tribal judge.
In what is viewed as a possible step closer to a solution in the complicated parental kidnapping case, North Dakota District Court Judge John Irby on Monday sentenced 32-year-old Tricia Taylor to two years in the women’s state prison.
So far, though, the 2-year-old and 7-year-old daughters remain on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north-central South Dakota on that competing judicial order issued in January that the children should stay with Taylor’s sister, Jessica Ducheneaux of Timber Lake, a small town of about 400 on the 10,500-person reservation.
That goes against a similar order in family court in Fargo last September when the two fathers, Aarin Nygaard, 24, and Terrance Stanley, 32, were awarded full custody of the two girls.
After the sentencing earlier this week, both fathers said they would agree to letting Taylor go free if only they would get back the children.
“The biggest thing is to have the kids back,” Stanley told assistant Cass County state’s attorney Tristan Van de Streek, who prosecuted the case, in a meeting after the sentencing with about 10 family members.
“I just want to get my kid back,” he said. “I don’t seek vengeance.”
“You have no idea how I feel. I don’t think you have any idea how stressful this has been as a father,” Stanley said. “I wake up in the morning thinking of my child and when I go to bed I don’t know if she is OK.
“It’s like living in death, without the killing,” he said.
Nygaard, who along with Stanley wrote a victim impact statement to the judge, agreed. “I would just be happy with time served for her if she would just bring the kid back to me.”
“I think we are at least a step closer to get them back,” Nygaard said.
Van de Streek said Taylor kind of “called our bluff” by pleading guilty to the charge and going off to prison without bringing the girls home.
She did talk in court before Irby pronounced the sentence about her reasoning, saying she thought it was in the best interest of the children. She said in her relationships with the two fathers she faced “mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse,” adding that her “confidence was crushed.”
She also took responsibility for her actions.
“I humbly ask for forgiveness,” she told the judge. “I’m truly sorry with all my heart. But I thought I was protecting my children, and myself.”
The fathers, and Van de Streek, don’t buy it.
Van de Streek said any reports of abuse were aired in family court and the judge there decided to give the fathers full custody. If the children are returned, Taylor would have only supervised visitation, the ruling states.
The U.S. Marshal’s issued a warrant and the FBI went to the reservation in November to arrest Taylor and bring her back to Fargo. The fathers wish the FBI would have taken the children, too, but Taylor’s family there wouldn’t let them.
Complicating the matter in the months since is Tribal Judge Brenda Claymore’s order this winter that the children should stay with Taylor’s sister. Van de Streek said he doesn’t know what to do next with those “competing orders” in the case, although he believes the children belong back with their fathers.
Tribal officials refused to talk about the case, with juvenile court prosecutor Carla Veaux saying that “workers for the tribe don’t have the authority to speak on behalf of the tribe.”
Tribal chairman Harold Frazer was unavailable for comment. However, the tribe’s administrative officer, Ken Little Feather, thought maybe the tribe’s child welfare director would have some answers. But she also didn’t want to go on the record only saying she was “surprised” by the tribal judge’s decision when the fathers have been awarded custody. She also said her office doesn’t get involved in such cases.
Meanwhile, the tribal judge didn’t return a call concerning the matter. The court’s office clerk said they couldn’t comment on the case because it involved juveniles.
There has been evidence, however, that the children are safe. A photograph in the local newspaper, the Timber Lake Topic, showed the older daughter in school during a Dr. Seuss program. Also, Stanley’s mother, Debra of Fargo, said she talked to Taylor in the Cass County jail recently and she told her the girls were safe and with her sister. She was also told that the girls had actually been back in North Dakota when they were taken to Bismarck to go swimming at a hotel on an outing.
Debra Stanley said she told Taylor that all she needed to do was make a phone call and it could be over.
“I just want to see my granddaughter, too. The kids are just getting the dirty end of this deal,” the grandmother said.
So while Taylor starts serving her prison sentence in New England, the girls remain on the reservation while the fathers keep trying to think of ways to get their daughters back.
Family spokesman Michael Nygaard, Aarin’s uncle, has pursued a solution to the dilemma with phone calls to attorneys, the reservation, politicians and Indian children welfare organizations.
All it would take, said Aarin Nygaard, is that phone call and it could be over. He said the mother is certainly being “stubborn.”
Perhaps, as Aarin Nygaard said, the case is a step closer with the sentencing, but Van de Streek in that meeting after the sentencing apologized to the family and summarized the situation by saying, “I’m sorry we aren’t in a better place.”
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