Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has joined “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado’s fight to regain custody of her two children. Mercado held an emotional press conference earlier this week about the situation after the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office seized her newborn daughter Ast on Aug. 11.
“I went somewhere to get assistance. My baby was supposed to come home with me,” Mercado said during the conference, joined by her partner and the children’s father Tyron Deener. “We should have never been criminalized for getting assistance for something.”
After joining the case on Wednesday (Aug. 18), Crump called out the Florida sheriff’s department for “publicly dehumanizing” a Black family.
“If you are a parent, if you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, just know that we have agencies in place that have the ability to remove children without you breaking the law or abusing your niece, nephew, son,” Deener said. “If this can happen to us, it can happen to you. We have no criminal background. We have no history with DCF. We have done nothing wrong.”
According to USA Today, Manatee County sheriff’s deputies took Ast on Aug. 11, when she was just 10 days old, during a traffic stop in Florida. CPS was reportedly ordered to seize the newborn because Mercado and Deener failed to report that they welcomed another child amidst their continued legal battle to regain custody of their 18-month-old son, Amen’Ra.
The couple’s son was placed in foster care in March after they sought medical guidance from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. At the time, Mercado’s milk supply started to run dry and Amen’Ra wasn’t accepting other fluids, so the parents went to the hospital for help. Instead, Mercado and Deener were ejected from the hospital two weeks later by St. Petersburg Police and Amen’Ra was placed in foster care by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
An attorney representing the couple said on Tuesday (Aug. 17) that both children are currently in the care of “an estranged relative” and that Mercado and Deener are only able to visit them once a week.
Deener believes they have been targeted, in part, due to their vegan diet.
“The only thing we’ve done as parents is going to get assistance for our son,” he said. “We’ve been judged on the way we look, the way we present ourselves. We’ve been criminalized. We had our son and daughter removed from us for lack of understanding.”
“This is my first time being a mom and I’ve been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies,” Mercado added tearfully. “I didn’t get to see Ra say ‘Mama’ for the first time and I didn’t get to see my babies meet for the first time, and I can’t go back and redo that moment.”
“I’m just missing out on so many precious moments, such a precious time,” she continued. “I feel my daughter. I feel when she’s hungry and when she’s crying and I can’t do anything. She’s not here with me. I’ve been deprived of that and I don’t know how to articulate it. It hurts so bad.”