Red Lake family refuses to comply with state court
order to return child to mother
By Jeff Armstrong
A Red Lake family has defied a state judge’s order to
return a child whose custody they acquired through dubious tribal and
state court motions to the care of her mother.
In a March 4 ruling, Beltrami County district judge
Terrance Holter ordered Donald Brun, Sr., his wife Geraldine Brun and
his son Donald Brun, Jr., the girl’s father, to return custody of
five-year-old Meghan Brun to her mother, Jawnie
Hough, before 5 p.m. March 10.
Invalidating an earlier ruling, Holter held that Donald
Brun, Jr. “did perpetrate misconduct on this court” by obtaining a
state court order enforcing a tribal court judgment without providing
notice to Hough or informing either court of two previous orders
granting her custody. Holter found that the tribal court failed to
provide for due process in depriving the mother of “a fundamental right
under the United States Constitution” and ordered that any future
proceedings be held “in a neutral forum.”
Hough said she waited for the Bruns in the company of a
Bemidji police officer at a pre-arranged meeting place until well past
the hour of the court’s Sunday deadline. The Anishinabe woman said she
was disappointed--but not surprised--by the family’s failure to comply
with the judicial order.
“I figured they wouldn’t show up,” said Hough. “They
still think they can run and hide behind reservation lines.”
Anticipating such a response by the Bruns, the district
court order had directed “the Beltrami County Sheriff…to take physical
custody of the child and return the child to the jurisdiction of this
county and Petitioner” in the event of the paternal relatives’
Beltrami County sheriff Keith Winger could not be
reached for comment, but other county law enforcement staff said they
were unaware of either the order itself or any attempt to enforce it.
Red Lake director of public safety Pat Mills, whose
cooperation would likely be needed to enforce the court’s directive,
said he had received no request for assistance from county officials.
“I have had no contact with the County Attorney or law
enforcement personnel on this matter,” said Mills. “If they call us, we
will refer them to the tribal court.”
Donald Brun, Jr. could not be located for comment. His
father hung up the phone when this reporter identified himself.
Brun’s attorney, Michael Ruffenach, denied any role in
his client’s refusal to return the child or any other alleged
“How am I a party to the misconduct of my client?” asked
Ruffenach, accusing Press/ON of biased coverage of the case.
Ruffenach wrote to judge Holter on March 7, requesting a
stay of his custody order which the attorney concedes was not granted.
The following day, Ruffenach wrote to opposing counsel Frank Bibeau,
stating that “my client is not going to return the child.” According to
the March 8 letter, Meghan Brun, whom Ruffenach refers to as “Agnus” in
his previous letter, “is under the jurisdiction of the Red Lake
Juvenile court.” Ruffenach said Red Lake social services called his
office March 7 to inform the attorney that the tribal agency had taken
custody of the child without providing further details.
Willa Beaulieu, a tribal court employee named by the
attorney in his March 8 letter, failed to return a call from the press
to confirm the assertion.
Ruffenach maintains the central issue in dispute is the
jurisdiction of the state court to reconsider its comity order, which
the attorney claims has never been explored by the courts. He said no
determination has been made whether to appeal the state decision.
“If the Red Lake court had authority to issue its
decision, what jurisdiction does Minnesota have to lift it?” the
Beltrami County attorney Tim Faver said the county has
no written extradition agreement with Red Lake, only an informal
arrangement pertaining to criminal matters. Faver said he would review
the case for potential criminal offenses if a formal complaint is
filed, but he also expressed confidence that the two law enforcement
agencies would jointly resolve the dispute.
“I assume the Sheriff’s Department would ask for the
cooperation of the Red Lake Police Department and I assume that they
would receive it,” said Faver.
Faver said any contempt of court charges would have to
be initiated by Hough or her attorney in a motion to judge Holter.
Coleen Rouley, a legal adviser to the Minneapolis FBI,
said state criminal charges would likely have to precede a federal
indictment. However, Rouley said the Bureau would examine the state
court files on the case to assess whether it had jurisdiction in the