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Jurisdiction, custody issues surround missing baby case

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Joann Hoof

Joann Hoof was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on April 27. Two days later, the infant went missing after the father reportedly took the newborn without the mother's consent.

Joann Hoof was just two days old when she went missing, but her mother, Lassandra Hoof, said she is running into multiple jurisdictional hurdles in her search to find her infant.

Joann was born April 27 on the Pine Ridge Reservation to Lassandra Hoof and Jacob Barajas.

After Barajas reportedly took Joann on April 29 without her mother’s consent, Lassandra filed for temporary emergency child custody and temporary emergency placement of the baby, which the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court granted her on May 2. On May 24, the court granted Lassandra permanent guardianship over Joann, tribal court documents show.

Despite the custody rulings and Joann being listed as officially missing on the South Dakota Attorney General’s missing persons list, Lassandra said she hasn’t had much luck getting help from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Department. The department provided the missing person information to the South Dakota Attorney General’s office and are listed as the agency in charge of the case, according to Tim Bormann, the attorney general’s chief of staff.

“Basically they said that custody hadn't been established, so they couldn't really do anything about it since he signed paternity on her,” Lassandra said.

The Journal has attempted multiple times over several days to get in touch with the Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Department investigators without success. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also has not confirmed if they are looking into the case.

Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women USA posted Joann and Barajas’ information on May 2, and the Rapid City Police Department confirmed that Barajas and his vehicle are listed in the National Crime Information Center database as a person of interest to another agency, but there doesn’t appear to be any criminal charges against Barajas.

Tribal law enforcement aren’t able to arrest a non-native person who isn’t on the reservation, and Lassandra believes that Barajas took the baby out of state.

Rapid City family lawyer Kyle Krause said it’s not a crime to take your own child until there’s a court order establishing custody.

“It’s basically a free for all until somebody gets a court order,” Krause said. “He can grab the kid and run wherever he wants, at least within the country, and he hasn’t violated any laws.”

Krause said states are required to honor tribal court rulings under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

“If she called my office and said, ‘How do I get my kid back? I’ve got this valid tribal court order.’ I’d say, you need to go file a motion or petition to have that recognized (in state court). Basically, the question for that court is whether the tribal court would have jurisdiction based on those UCCJEA principles,” Krause said.

Lassandra and Barajas are still officially married, but their relationship was short-lived. Lassandra said their interactions started on Facebook. Lassandra said Barajas had “been trying to get with” her since 2020, but she didn’t take it seriously because he lived out of state.

“But last year (2021), I decided to just throw caution out the window and talk to him, and he seemed like a pretty decent dude,” Lassandra said.

After Barajas visited South Dakota in late June, the pair went on a trip to meet his family out of state and Lassandra moved to Texas with her two children to be with Barajas. They married in early August 2021. About two weeks later, Lassandra found out she was pregnant.

The relationship soured less than a month later, she said. Lassandra said Barajas became violent with her. Lassandra references the alleged violence in tribal court documents asking for custody of Joann. Despite the strain between the couple, Barajas attended Joann’s birth.

“I had no intention of keeping her from him or anything like that. I told him to go ahead and come be here for her birth because I believe in having two parents,” Lassandra said.

Two days after being discharged from the hospital, Lassandra went to the Prairie Winds Hotel with Joann, her two other children and other members of her family, who she said left after dinner. Lassandra’s father went to the casino, and she and her children stayed in a hotel room. After going out to her father’s truck to get her hospital back, Lassandra said she returned to the hotel room to find Joann, Barajas and his Army duffle bag gone, she wrote in a statement requesting charges be filed against Barajas.

Multiple attempts by the Journal to contact the Clerk of Courts at the Oglala Sioux Tribal Courts to confirm if charges have been filed were unsuccessful.

Barajas' Facebook page pictures him wearing an Army uniform, and Lassandra said he was on a leave from deployment for the baby's birth and returned overseas after giving the child to a member of his family who Lassandra hadn't spent much time with. 

“I’ve been told I seem well put together, that I’m holding it together and stuff, but no. It’s been hard,” Lassandra said. “I haven't been able to sleep a lot because I miss her. That’s my baby. I didn’t get to sit with her and bond with her or anything.”

Lassandra said she hopes to see some sort of change in the law regarding parental custody.

“I think something or a law needs to be made about this because other parents are gonna see this, and think that, ‘Hey, I could go and kidnap my kid and then nothing's gonna happen, no charges are going to be pressed or anything like that. Law enforcement is not going to get involved. It’s just going to be me and that person.”

— Contact Shalom Baer Gee at sgee@rapidcityjournal.com — 

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