Red Lake actions in
child custody dispute may
violate Violence Against Women Act
By Jeff Armstrong
Despite receiving at least $298,000 in grants under the federal
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Red Lake officials appear to be in
violation of provisions of the act by failing to enforce a state court
order against a tribal member who wrongfully took custody of his
Donald Brun, Jr. was ordered by Beltrami County District Judge Terrance
Holter March 4 to return five-year-old Meghan Brun to her mother,
Jawnie Hough no later than March 10.
Hough was first granted sole physical custody of Meghan in a May 5,
1999 state court Order for Protection filed against Brun for alleged
domestic violence. In effect for one year, the OFP specifically states
that the order is enforceable on the reservation.
After his parents took Meghan to the reservation March 15, 2000 and
failed to return the child, Brun petitioned the Red Lake Court for
custody without notifying Hough on April 13 of that year--while the
protection order was still in effect.
Under the terms of VAWA, the reservation is obliged to apply state
protection orders to the same extent as a tribal court judgment:
"Any protection order issued by a state or tribal court...shall be
accorded full faith and credit by the court of another State or Indian
Tribe...and enforced as if it were the order of the enforcing State or
Tribe," the statute stipulates.
The law also bars courts from granting retaliatory protection orders to
spouses who had such orders filed against them, unless both parties
were allowed to testify and the court found there was no self-defense
involved. Brun requested an Order for Protection against Hough on May
17, 1999--less than two weeks after he was ordered to refrain from
contact with his ex-wife--without apparently explaining the cause for
his action. Although Hough was not notified of the hearing, Judge Bruce
Graves granted Brun's request June 16, 1999.
In fiscal year 1998, Red Lake received a $214,392 grant for its Women's
Advocacy Program/Shelter to "address the legal issues associated with
facilitating inter-jurisdictional enforcement of protection orders for
Native American Reservations in Minnesota...and policy implications of
complying with the full faith and credit provision of the Violence
Against Women Act."
That same year, the reservation was awarded $84,000 under VAWA's Stop
Violence Against Indian Women program. Tribal council chairman Bobby
Whitefeather is listed as the contact person for both efforts.
Timeline of Hough Case:
· May 5,
1999 Hough granted custody of Meghan Brun in OFP
limiting paternal visitation due to concerns father would flee with
· May 17,
1999 Brun files for restraining order in RL Court
against Hough without serving notice upon her.
· June 14,
1999 Divorce order reaffirms Hough's custody of
· June 17,
1999 RL Court grants Brun's OFP request, sends copy
to Beltrami County district judge Paul Benshoof.
· March 15,
2000 Brun's parents pick up Meghan for routine
visit, take child to reservation and refuse to return.
· April 13,
2000 Brun petitions RL Court for custody of
daughter, claiming she wishes him to take custody. Fails to notify
· May 9,
2000 Ex parte hearing held in RL for custody of Meghan.
Hough not notified.
· May 22,
2000 RL court grants Brun and parents sole custody of
· June 6,
2000 Hough spots daughter at Bemidji barber, takes her
home. Bruns report incident to Bemidji police.
· June 16,
2000 Attorney Michael Ruffenach files motion for Brun
under Beltrami County divorce file for enforcement of RL Court custody
ruling. No notice given to Hough.
· June 19,
2000 Judge Holter grants comity request in Hough's
absence, orders law enforcement to return child to Bruns. Arrest
warrant subsequently issued for Hough on parental abduction charges.
· Jan. 10,
2001 Hough arrested and daughter seized at U of M
· July 30,
2001 After lengthy search, Hough obtains lawyer and
files motion to vacate state court order enforcing tribal court ruling.
· Oct. 3,
2001 State court denies Hough's motion.
· Jan. 28,
2002 Criminal charges dismissed against Hough.
· March 4,
2002 State court finds Brun "perpetrated fraud upon
the court" and orders Meghan's return to mother.
· March 8,
2002 Ruffenach writes to Hough's attorney, Frank
Bibeau, informing him client refuses to comply with court order; writes
to judge Holter asking for reconsideration.
· March 14,
2002 Judge Holter denies Brun's motion as moot.
· March 15,
2002 Ruffenach informs court of resignation as
counsel for Brun.