As more birthdays pass, Fargo fathers of kidnapped girls aren't giving up
FARGO—Arin Nygaard hasn't seen his daughter in 3½ years and Sunday, Jan. 28, is her fifth birthday.
The 5-year-old girl, Cheyienna, was whisked away by her mother from Fargo to the remote Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation about 350 miles away in far northwest South Dakota more than three years ago, despite a North Dakota court order giving full custody to Nygaard.
The mother was convicted of parental kidnapping and served time in jail and the state prison, but then last fall she cut off her location-monitoring ankle bracelet while on probation in a visit to Bismarck, fled to the reservation and has refused to cooperate with the state and return Cheyienna and her older sister to their fathers.
Cheyienna's sister, Tatelyn, who just had her 10th birthday on Dec. 28, is still on the reservation, staying with their mother Tricia Taylor's half-sister. Her father, Terrance Stanley, has seen his daughter on a few, rare occasions in court-ordered visitations, but those stopped even before Taylor returned to the reservation.
It's the "time lost" that hurts Nygaard the most as another birthday passes.
"There's no way to describe it," he said. "It just tears me apart. Every day is a challenge. It's very hard, especially all of this time lost."
He's single and would love to be able to spend time with his daughter. He and Taylor also had a son, but he died five months after his birth.
Stanley misses his daughter terribly, too, and wants to be in her life, he said in an email. He said he just wants his daughter back home with him to raise his own child.
"That's the bottom line," he said.
The girls are in Timber Lake on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation with the half-sister, Jessica Ducheneaux, and in the past six months or so her family has said they are "too busy" to allow visitations and haven't even allowed phone calls, according to Stanley's family.
What's also perplexing is that Taylor apparently isn't living with the girls, according to Michael Nygaard, Arin's uncle and a family spokesman. He said she is in the reservation town of Eagle Butte about 40 miles away.
The Nygaards hope a warrant can be served on her in a move to try to get the children back.
Taylor was arrested on the reservation by U.S. marshals on a warrant when she originally fled, but the U.S. attorney's offices in South Dakota and North Dakota aren't saying much about getting such a warrant again.
A South Dakota office official said they had no comment.
In North Dakota, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer said it is a state issue and that officials in North Dakota would have jurisdiction over Taylor's arrest because she in violation of a state probation order and would have to work with North Dakota state's attorneys.
"I feel sorry for the fathers," he said. "We've looked into it, but we can't help."
The only apparent action taken by South Dakota officials is that they tried to collect child support from the fathers, which infuriated both Nygaard and Stanley, knowing that the mother has been convicted of parental kidnapping and that they have full custody according to North Dakota law. On top of that, there's also an order for Taylor to pay child support. If that order was followed, said Michael Nygaard,Taylor would owe about $21,000 because the court order calls for a payment of $238 a month.
The fight, however, isn't over as the Nygaards work tirelessly to try to get the children back.
The attempts in the tribal court system, a tribal appeals court and the federal court system have failed so far.
The Cheyenne River tribal court that could order the girls returned has repeatedly put off court days, failed to give proper notice of court dates or made other decisions except for giving custody to the fathers.
Calls to the Cheyenne River tribal court handling the custody matter this past week resulted in several transfers to different departments where no one would discuss the issue.
Michael Nygaard said rather than getting a custody order through the tribal court, they are trying to get a ruling on comity—a legal term that in this instance means basically an informal and voluntary recognition by the tribal court of the laws and judicial decisions made in North Dakota.
The Nygaards' lawyer in South Dakota, RoseAnn Wendell of Pierre, said she is "cautiously optimistic" that a favorable hearing will be held in February. She said that after several tribal judges were involved in recent years, a more independent judge from off the reservation is apparently going to hear the case.
She said custody disputes involving parents off the reservation with the other parent fleeing to the reservations are "rampant."
"This could happen to any family," she said as the state courts and tribal courts fight over jurisdiction in the cases.
So what lies ahead remains unknown.
Michael Nygaard basically thinks that Taylor "hates the fathers more than she loves her daughters." That's why she spent more than two years in state prison and the Cass County Jail for parental kidnapping, and why she took off last last fall from Bismarck after telling probation officials that if she could visit the city she would have the children back in 72 hours.
Instead, she roams free on the northwest South Dakota reservation.
The two fathers, facing financial hardships because of the lawyer fees, go to work every day, hoping more birthdays don't pass and that someday they can have their daughters back.
When that day comes, they also would be willing to share their daughters with their mother and her family in supervised situations. They realize it's not going to be easy for the girls if they do return to their fathers and that counseling would be needed.
"We want the girls to have both their fathers and their mother in their lives. That's our wish," said MIchael Nygaard.