MANATEE COUNTY, Fla — A former American Idol star and her partner have shared their heartbreak over what they say is "racial injustice."
“How could you guys do this. Do you not feel anything?" asked Syesha Mercado, in a video posted to Instagram.
It now has more than 3 million views on social media.
Syesha Mercado and her partner Tyron Deener documented the Manatee County Sheriff's Office as they followed through on what deputies describe as a “pick-up order signed by a family court judge” for their newborn child.
“My baby is days old, and you’re taking my baby away from me, you’re taking my baby away from me! You have no hearts," Mercado can be heard saying in the video. "This is so wrong. Don't make it seem like I'm crazy."
This is the second child taken from the couple. Months earlier, in March, Mercado said she took her 15-month-old son to Johns Hopkins All Children's hospital for support as he made the transition from breastfeeding to the bottle and solids. She said DCF ultimately took her child after she said they claimed she refused certain medical care which she adamantly denies.
A spokesperson for the hospital sent a statement saying while they’re limited on their comment, “Our first responsibility is always to the child brought to us for care, and we are legally obligated to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) when we detect signs of possible abuse or neglect.”
DCF told US it is restricted by statute from speaking about any specific case but adds, “Children are removed from caregivers when present danger or neglect or abuse is detected by highly-trained child protective investigators. Our goal is always to reunify families as quickly as possibly, however reunification is only possible when parties to a case work collaboratively towards this goal.”
Excerpt from video:
DEPUTY: “Whenever a new baby is born, and there is already a child that is already out of your care, it’s going to be on us to…”
DEENER: “To check on the welfare, but why do you have to remove her?”
DEPUTY: "Because we couldn’t get access to the child.”
DEENER: “We said contact our attorney, that’s all we said.”
The couple is now fighting to get both kids back.
“I want everybody to know, that video on the side of the road, when our newborn was taken, there were three other children, an 8, 7, and 5-year-old also in that car," said Deener.
He wonders why his kids, from a previous partner, are safe in their care, but the two other children are not.
“This is my first time being a mom, and I’ve been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies," Mercado said through tears.
The couple started a GoFundMe to help with legal expenses. It has now reached more than $400,000. They also have support from people all over the country including Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney, who most recently represented the family of George Floyd.
“Tyron and Syesha, we are here to fight with you to the end, until we can get your children home back safely to you all," Crump said.
The couple's lawyers say they continue to explore all legal options are actively talking to DCF now.
“This case is full throttle. We’re working on this case all day every day, 18 hours a day," said Louise Baptiste, an attorney representing the couple.
We also received a statement from Child Protective Services that said in part it, “does not shelter children from families with the intent to keep them separated for long. Time frames for reunification vary, but the willingness of parents to complete the steps necessary to ensure a healthy and safe dynamic are essential”
Read full statements below:
Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital:
Our first priority at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital is always the safety and privacy of our patients and their families. Therefore, we strictly follow privacy laws that limit the amount of information we can release regarding this particular case. However, we can say that our first responsibility is always to the child brought to us for care, and we are legally obligated to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) when we detect signs of possible abuse or neglect. It is DCF that investigates the situation and makes the ultimate decision about what course of action is in the best interests of the child.
Please Note: Dr. Sally Smith has medical privileges at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital but is not an employee of the hospital.
Department of Children and Familes (DCF):
Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.) mandates that any person, including, but not limited to, law enforcement, education professionals, and healthcare professionals, who have experience in identifying signs of abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child, and who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare, shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Children are removed from caregivers when present danger for neglect or abuse is detected by highly-trained Child Protective Investigators. The Department of Children and Families’ number one priority is the safety of the child.
Our goal is always to reunify families as quickly as possible when all safety concerns are addressed. However, reunification is only possible when parties to a case work collaboratively towards this goal.
The Department’s actions are always to ensure the well-being of children. Any additional information would be confidential at this time, per Chapter 39.202, Florida Statutes.
Manatee County Sheriffs Office:
We concluded an investigation in March of 2021 after receiving information through the abuse hotline about a child at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital who was suffering from severe malnutrition/failure to thrive.
Ultimately the child, by order of a judge was sheltered and treatment took place. The parents refused to cooperate. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Child Protection Investigation Division was no longer directly involved and Safe Children’s Coalition (case management) handled the case from there, including the most recent decision to shelter a second child born into the parent’s care.
On 08/11/21 we executed a pick-up order signed by a family court judge. We are not able to comment further.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is the custodian of records, release of additional information would come from them. As you may also know, in Florida much of the information on these cases is confidential.
Manatee County Sheriffs Office Child Protection Division:
Thank you for your concern.
Child Protective Services does not shelter children from families with the intent to keep them separated for long. The child welfare system is a social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of persons in need.
We are governed by numerous policies and laws to ensure we do not lose focus when dealing with vulnerable families. The last thing anyone in this business wants to do is shelter children from their parents, but sometimes it is the only direction we are forced to take. By law, we always attempt to shelter children with another family member prior to any other placement.
We and/or our partners offer the guidance to parents for them to successfully reach goals necessary for timely reunification. Time frames for reunification vary, but the willingness of parents and/or guardians to complete the steps necessary to ensure a healthy and safe family dynamic are essential to a quick reunification of all families.
The guidelines and operating procedures as to the protection of children can be found at this website:
CFOP 170-1 pertains to Florida’s Child Welfare Practice Model
CFOP 170-05 pertains to Child Protective Investigations
FSS Chapter 39 pertains to Proceedings Related to Children