Over a week after having her newborn daughter stripped away from alongside a stretch of Florida highway, former “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado is speaking out again.
On August 17th, 2021 Mercado and her partner Tyron Deener held a press conference via Zoom webinar this week where they described their traumatic encounders with Child Protective Services. The couple spoke about their battle to regain custody of their two children, Amen’Ra and Ast Sba. At times Mercado cried as she detailed the pain of waking up and seeing her children’s things, knowing she was missing important milestones in their lives.
Watch footage from the press conference below:
If you missed our previous report about Syesha and Tyron’s case, on March 11, 2021, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (Child Protection Specialist Section, “MCSO”)intervened after Mercado visited Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Florida to get fluids for her and Deener’s son Amen’Ra, who she was transitioning from breastfeeding to the bottle due to her pregnancy. Amen’Ra had been having difficulty with the weaning process and Mercado sought help, but instead CPS intervened. While they were told Amen’Ra’s removal would be temporary, he remains in custody of a foster family and Mercado and Deener are only allowed supervised visits with him.
Randy Warren, a spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, told PEOPLE that authorities launched their investigation after receiving a tip about a child who was “suffering from severe malnutrition.”
According to Warren, the parents “refused to cooperate” and a judge ordered the child to be placed in the custody of Child Protective Services. The case was then handed over to Safe Children’s Coalition, who handled the decision to “shelter a second child born into the parent’s care.”
Warren said that deputies from the sheriff’s office “executed a pick-up order signed by a family court judge” last week after “repeated attempts to make contact with the parents.”
That second child was Deener and Mercado’s daughter, Ast Saba, who was born at home on August 1, 2021 with the assistance of a midwife. The couple claim their baby was healthy and happy and had visited a doctor just the day before they were pulled over by police on August 11th and she was taken away.
Mercado and Deener documented the roadside incident on social media, filming over 70 minutes of interactions with Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies and CPS workers where Mercado pleaded to be allowed to go with her daughter to the hospital to be examined, explaining that she was breastfeeding. She was not allowed to accompany the baby and in the emotional video footage is seen crying and begging for human understanding.
According to Miami Herald Tribute reports, baby Ast remains in state protection following an August 12th hearing.
The Herald-Tribune also reports that the couple’s case is one of many involving physician Sally Smith, the head of the children protection team for Pinellas County. The USA TODAY Network, previously reviewed hundreds of Smith’s cases and found more than a dozen cases where charges were dropped and parents or caregivers were acquitted after suffering from accusations of abuse or neglect by Smith, who previously denied “any problems with my work.”
A GoFundMe that has been established to help Mercado and Deener with expenses incurred in their legal battle to regain custody of their children has already raised over $420,000.
What can be done to prevent this from happening to others? Of course anyone would understand that some children need to be protected but what about those whose parents are innocent of abuse accusations? How long is too long for families to be separated?