Summary List Placement
A former “American Idol” star and Broadway performer has been begging for the return of her two young children after Florida authorities removed them from her custody.
Syesha Mercado and Tyron Deener have garnered wide attention for a viral video that shows their newborn daughter being taken by Child Protective Services (CPS) during a roadside welfare check. Previously, Mercado said in an Instagram post that her son, Amen’Ra, was removed from her custody and placed into foster care after she experienced difficulty lactating while pregnant with her daughter.
Not only have Mercado’s posts caught the attention of celebrities and activists, but her story is raising concerns of racist bias. Mercado, who is Black, called the actions toward her family an example of “racial discrimination.”
Mercado, who finished in the seventh season of “American Idol” as a third-place finalist, has raised more than $400,000 for legal fees and says she plans to challenge Manatee County’s case against her in November once a trial has been set.
In a July 24 Instagram post, Mercado said she went to John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, to see pediatric specialists and receive assistance with weaning Amen’Ra off her breastmilk. At the hospital, Mercado said she was accused of medical neglect and refusal to administer a vitamin B-12 shot. Mercado said she never refused the shot and was unjustly separated from her son.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Sally Smith, the physician who oversees “nearly every case” of a child with suspicious injuries at All Children’s Hospital, has been involved in more than a dozen cases where child neglect and abuse charges were later dropped.
When reached for comment, the All Children’s Hospital directed Insider to a “concerned citizens line” that played a recording that identified Smith as the head of the Pinellas County child protection team, who is not employed by the hospital.
In a statement provided to Insider by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the commander of the Child Protection Investigation Division said CPS doesn’t shelter children “with the intent to keep them separated for long.”
The office also told Insider that the decision to shelter Mercado’s second baby was made by a Florida non-profit called Safe Children Coalition and that the office initially received information through its abuse hotline that Amen’Ra was suffering from “severe malnutrition/failure to thrive.”
“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,” Captain Dennis E. Romano Jr. said in a statement. “By law, we always attempt to shelter children with another family member prior to any other placement.”
Civil rights activists joined the couple in a press conference
In a press conference hosted by a social justice advocacy group on Tuesday, civil rights attorneys for the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and other Black families whose children were killed by police, spoke out in support of Mercado and Deener.
“We have all seen the video that went viral of the police taking their newborn daughter from their mother’s arms on the side of the room, without wearing masks, making a spectacle out of this Black family and publicly dehumanizing them,” Ben Crump, the national civil-rights attorney who leads Floyd’s family’s legal team, said during the press conference.
Crump, who is “supporting” Mercado and Deener alongside their two lead attornies, according to a tweet from his practice, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mercado and Deener condemned the CPS officers who “judged” their family.
“This is my first time being a mom and I’ve been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies,” Mercado said during the press conference. “I didn’t get to see Ra say ‘Momma’ for the first time and I didn’t get to see my babies meet for the first time. I can’t go back and redo that moment.”
The couple’s video of their daughter being taken went viral
Mercado and Deener posted a live video on Instagram on August 11 of Manatee County authorities taking their newborn daughter, whom they said was less than two weeks old. The video has been viewed more than 3 million times.
In the video, officers with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office can be seen exiting their marked police vehicle. A woman who identifies herself as a representative with the department’s Child Protective Investigations Division tells Deener that he and Mercado didn’t notify their case management team that they had a second child.
Deener repeatedly tells the officials to communicate with his lawyer, Derrick McBurrows, who can be seen in the video standing across from where the roadside welfare check took place. The authorities tell Mercado they have a court order to take her child to the hospital and instruct her to place the newborn in a car seat.
“How could you guys do this? Do you not feel anything?” Mercado asks the officers. “You guys, I’m human. This is my baby. My baby is days old. And you’re taking my baby away from me.”
According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation into Amen’Ra was concluded in March 2021 after receiving information through the unit’s abuse hotline about a child at 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,” Public Information Officer Randy Warren said in a statement to Insider. Warren also said the Safe Children Coalition, a Florida non-profit, handled case management in regards to Mercado and Deener.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Deener, who said he and Mercado have no criminal histories, said he and Mercado have received “threats on threats” since their story became national news.
“We have not committed any crime,” Deener said. “We have not abused our babies. We have not done anything irresponsible as parents.”
Mercado did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.