FARGO -- A Fargo mother who was convicted of parental kidnapping and whose daughters are still on a South Dakota Indian reservation with her half-sister has been granted early parole, much to the chagrin of the fathers.
The 3-0 decision by the North Dakota Board of Parole will allow Tricia Taylor, 33, to be released Nov. 5 from the state women’s prison after serving about six months of a two-year prison term. Parole board chairman Duane Houdek, however, said Taylor also served about five months in the Cass County Jail before her conviction last April when she was sent to the New England, N.D., prison.
He also defended the decision by saying she was a non-violent offender and didn’t have a criminal record.
However, the two girls, ages 2 and 7, still aren’t back with their fathers who have been granted full custody by a North Dakota state court.
Houdek said it was the board’s understanding that the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation where the girls were taken has assumed jurisdiction and taken custody of the girls.
Thus, it was his understanding that “even if she wanted to, she couldn’t return them.”
However, the family spokesman for the fathers -- Michael Nygaard of Fargo -- disagrees.
“All Tricia has to do is make a call to her half sister and this done,” he said about returning the children. “Tricia is trying to get the tribe to take custody of the girls, but we have received notice … that they will not do this but want the tribal court to make a decision on custody, which has not been determined yet in the tribal court. Tricia wanted the board to think that she is helpless in this matter while that is not the case.”
Thus, the two fathers -- Aarin Nygaard and Terrance Stanley, both of Fargo -- and their families are somewhat in disbelief she was granted parole.
Michael Nygaard, who is Aarin’s uncle, said, “We just can’t believe it.”
One of the fathers’ attorneys, RoseAnn Wendell of Pierre, S.D., said, “I think it’s a slap in the face.”
It’s now been more than a year since Taylor stole the girls away on Labor Day weekend in 2014 and since then, the fathers have been fighting through the tribal court system on the northwest South Dakota reservation for the girls to be returned to them. They’ve spent more than $40,000 on legal fees forcing them to set up a gofundme page and a donation account at Gate City Bank.
They haven’t seen the girls either, although tribal judge Brenda Claymore did say earlier last month at one of numerous hearings on the case that they could visit the girls who have been staying with the half sister -- Jessica Ducheneaux -- in Timber Lake on the reservation. However, neither father has attended the hearings this year because their attorneys do not want them to succumb to the jurisdiction of the tribe.
Even if they could arrange it, Michael Nygaard said they didn’t want to have a visitation on the reservation. “After discussing it, we thought it would just be too disruptive.”
So the situation has turned into an example of how people can get caught up in the legal limbo between state and tribal courts.
On one hand, the state courts wants tribal courts to respect their laws while the tribal courts want state courts to do the same.
Wendell, who describes herself as a “blonde white girl” who has been arguing cases on South Dakota reservations for years, said when she first started her chances of winning any cases in tribal courts were about as good as -- well -- being the “Easter bunny.”
She said she has developed a “good relationship” with the Cheyenne River tribal officials and is “cautiously optimistic” that the girls might be returned to their fathers at the next hearing in tribal court in Eagle Butte on Oct. 29.
“I think she (the judge) knows that legally, procedurally and substantially that the law favors returning the kids to their dads,” Wendell said.
However, the judge could face a political backlash on the reservation if she does give up the two girls from the reservation and may even face the loss of her job as the judge serves at the pleasure of the tribal chairman -- as is the case on most reservations.
Moreover, Wendell said this custody case has been played out a lot in social media and has drawn a lot of attention.
“However, I think there’s been a lot of misinformation,” she said.
There have been allegations from Taylor that she has suffered physical and mental abuse from Aarin Nygaard and his family and that he sexually abused the older daughter.
In a petition that was sent to the parole board, another Taylor extended family member, Jennifer Ducheneaux, wrote that “for years she (Taylor) has been dealt verbal abuse, physical abuse and harassment from the Nygaard family.”
The allegations infuriate the fathers and their families.
Cass County assistant state’s attorney Tristan Van de Streek backs up the fathers, saying there was an intensive investigation by police and other agencies into the abuse allegations but the evidence was insufficient.
“No way could we win the case with the evidence we had,” said Van de Streek, who also prosecuted the parental kidnapping case against Taylor. He did say a confrontation between Nygaard and Taylor at one point in their relationship, however, did land Nygaard with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, although it was later dismissed.
Another judge --- magistrate judge Susan Solheim of Fargo -- also has reviewed the relationships and the case and granted the fathers full custody, plus issued two contempt of court charges against Taylor.
The custody order, however, remains the focus of the dispute with the tribal court.
Wendell said these type of battles between state and tribal courts happen more than a person might think.
“Do people seek refuge on the reservation? Yes,” Wendell said.
She has seen other custody fights linger on reservations for years or even in some instances don’t even make it to court -- another example of how jurisdictional issues can drag on between state and tribal courts.
“Sometimes it’s ‘good luck’ trying to get anything done,” Wendell said.
Because of that, some people simply give up as it gets “too hard, too stressful and too emotional,” she said.
Wendell said this case is somewhat different, however, not only because there has been the parental kidnapping conviction but because the fathers and their families are sticking it out and not giving up.
“I give them a lot of credit for keeping up the fight,” she said.
Meanwhile, Michael Nygaard said he worries that when Taylor is released from prison, she’ll go to the reservation and then they’ll never see the girls again.
However, orders provided by the parole board state that she can’t leave North Dakota without obtaining advance permission from a parole officer and she must also have a travel permit. The order also states that she must waive extradition from “any jurisdiction” where she would be found and not contest any effort to return her to the state.
Michael Nygaard said if the fathers aren’t awarded custody at the end of this month, they’re done in the tribal court and will try to move into federal court with the case.
Neither Judge Claymore or Jessica Ducheneaux returned phone calls on the case or couldn’t be contacted.