Child missing in custody dispute returned to Plains police
A bald eagle skims along the surface of Flathead Lake with its catch of the day. TIM THOMPSON/Missoulian

POLSON - A 3-year-old girl who disappeared in an apparent custody dispute in Polson on May 8 was returned safely to Plains police Wednesday by her paternal grandmother, Rosemary Coupe of Plains, Polson Police Chief Ron Buzzard said.

The girl's physical condition was not immediately known. Plains police did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday afternoon.

A California court had awarded custody of Cassie Faralyn Miller to family friends, Travis and Tammy Deardorff, earlier this year. The court order provided that Coupe was allowed to have the child for a week in May for a visit.

The child has a troubled history, according to authorities. She was born in prison in Colorado to Patricia Cooper, who has a relationship with Robert Darrel Miller, 42, Coupe's son. Cooper named her, giving her Miller's surname. For a time the baby lived with Coupe in Plains, since the child's mother, still in prison, was unable to adequately care for her.

About two years ago, the Deardorffs, acquaintances of Coupe, agreed to care for the child, at least temporarily. They subsequently sought legal custody through a California court where they live. They were awarded temporary custody earlier this year because of the unusual family situation, even though they were not parents nor even relatives of the child.

In accordance with the court order, they allowed the girl to visit her grandmother in Plains for one week in May, receiving assurances she would be safe, and be returned to them.

On May 8, Coupe allowed her grandson Jesse Miller to take the child for the afternoon. Subsequently, arrangements were made for the child to spend the night with Miller and to be returned the next afternoon, according to investigators in Lake County. Miller set up a meeting with Robert Miller, who took the child from Jesse Miller at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Polson, saying he would return her the next day, court documents filed in Lake County allege.

Jesse Miller later told authorities he thought that Robert Miller just wanted to spend some time with the child, according to court documents. Jesse Miller said he did not know that Robert Miller had no legal right to visit the child.

Robert Miller took the child, promising to return her on Friday, but the girl was not returned to her grandmother in Plains, court documents allege.

Robert Miller was charged in Lake County with felony custodial interference, with bond at $50,000. He was never apprehended, and the girl's whereabouts have been unknown since May 8.

That charge may now be dropped, according to Lake County Attorney Kim Christopher.

She said that on the first offense, if the child abducted in a custody dispute is returned to its legal custodian before the defendant is arrested, Montana law provides for all criminal charges to be dismissed. Christopher said she wants to know the child's condition and other circumstances of the unusual case before she dismisses criminal charges.

No charges have been filed in Sanders County, where the grandmother lives.

The case has received national attention through the efforts of the Deardorffs. The Deardorffs have had the girl in their care for two years, they told the Missoulian, but just received legal guardianship two months ago from a district court in San Bernardino County, Calif., near where they live.

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