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Two years after children 'kidnapped' to SD reservation, court battles linger

FARGO--It's now been two years since a Fargo mother secretly whisked her two children off in the dark of night to the Cheyenne Sioux Indian Reservation in far northwest South Dakota.

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Tricia Taylor

FARGO-It's now been two years since a Fargo mother secretly whisked her two children off in the dark of night to the Cheyenne Sioux Indian Reservation in far northwest South Dakota.

A new ruling from the tribal appeals court came down this past week granting the two fathers "immediate" visitation rights, but they are afraid to step foot on the reservation and what they really desire is to gain full custody-something they've been awarded in North Dakota courts.

That custodial decision came shortly after the girls were found to be victims of parental kidnapping, a charge Cass County prosecutors convicted Tricia Taylor on after taking the children to the reservation.

Today, she still sits in jail - having served her time on the kidnapping charge but currently being held on contempt of court convictions for not returning the two girls to Fargo and their fathers.

"Enough is enough, two years away from their fathers just because someone is stubborn just isn't right," family spokesman Mike Nygaard told Forum News Service.

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To emphasize the point he said it's been 752 days as of Sunday, Sept. 18.

Tracy Lyson of Fargo, the attorney for Aarin Nygaard and Terrence Stanley, couldn't agree more.

"It's been a long time. Each day that goes by I feel more for the fathers. And there's only one reason: Tricia Taylor."

It's been a brutal fight - played out in the courts, social media, the media and on the reservation.

Mike Nygaard said even though visitation has been granted with the new order, "due to threats that have been made to the fathers and our family, none of us feel safe on that reservation. The threats have come from numerous members of the Taylor family."

Another one of the fathers' attorneys-RoseAnn Wendell of Pierre, S.D.-agreed.

The "family members have been harassed, threatened and verbally assaulted. As a result, they do not feel the need and are not comfortable with having visitation on the reservation," she wrote in an email to tribal court judge Brenda Claymore.

Taylor, who was arrested on the reservation by the FBI for parental kidnapping and returned to Fargo, first left the girls with her brother, but they are now with her half-sister in the town of Timberlake, about 350 miles away from Fargo.

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So far, she appears content to the let the issue play out in the courts and stay in jail, although she could return the children and Lyson said she wouldn't oppose her being released at that time.

Taylor, who is now being represented by Fargo attorney Stormy Vickers, declined a request for an interview.

She has made some domestic and sex abuse allegations against Aarin Nygaard, but Fargo prosecutors looked in depth into the charges and found no convincing evidence.

As part of the new tribal appeals court ruling, a three-judge panel comprised of a University of South Dakota law professor and two tribal members, the issue of custody was returned to the tribal court-for the second time.

The appeals court, led by chief justice and law professor Frank Pommersheim, criticized Judge Claymore for not allowing the fathers to be heard in a first temporary custody hearing, for not considering if the federal Parental Kidnapping Protection Act or Indian Child Welfare Act applied in the case and whether the North Dakota court orders should be followed with "written findings of fact and conclusions of law.".

If the North Dakota court orders were agreed to by the tribal court, the children would be returned, Lyson said.

It's called "comity" which is the legal principle that political entities will mutually recognize each other's judicial acts. The underlying notion is that different jurisdictions will reciprocate each other's judgments out of deference, mutuality, and respect.

In other words, it's a true case of tribal law versus state law.

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It's also a rare case-as most custody cases are settled in a hearing and not in a trial setting, Pommersheim said in an interview last month.

The fathers and Lyson take exception with parts of the appeals court ruling, however.

For example, Pommersheim wrote that "factual findings in this case are exceedingly sparse, almost nonexistent" which is a reason why his court didn't rule on the custody

Lyson, however, was "surprised" by that comment as all of the evidence was in the case file about the parental kidnapping conviction and the North Dakota custody decision.

The fathers wanted the appeals court to award the children to them.

Now, it's back to Judge Claymore and the fathers aren't hopeful of an early decision-despite the appeals court order to move to an immediate hearing.

Wendell shot off an immediate email to the judge after receiving the last week's decision and called for immediate visitation every weekend in either Aberdeen or Bismarck with no need for another hearing.

She also said the custody hearing should be held immediately, also as ordered by the appeals court.

Wendell said her clients have been respectful to the tribe during the two years, that the fathers would ensure the girls had a chance to visit their mother in jail and that the girls would be fine spending time with their fathers and their families.

"While the children have not seen their fathers for awhile, these children did not have the choice to be held from them," she wrote.

"We want to get this matter finalized. They do not want courts hanging over their heads.

"These children have homes and families in North Dakota and they all have a right to be in a comfortable environment as they reconnect."

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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