"American Idol" finalist Syesha Mercado and her partner Tyron Deener are fighting to regain custody of their toddler son and newborn daughter after they were taken by authorities. The couple, joined by their legal team and advocates, spoke at a virtual press conference on Tuesday calling for increased awareness of the situation.
Child Protective Services removed the couple's son, Amen'Ra Sba, from their care on March 11, after they sought medical assistance for him. On Aug. 1, Mercado gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Ast. Ten days later, officers confronted and separated Mercado, Deener and their newborn daughter on the side of the road in Manatee County, Florida.
Mercado posted an Instagram Live video of the incident showing Manatee County sheriff's deputies stopping her car for a welfare check and taking the child. The video went viral and has over 3 million views.
"This is my first time being a mom and I've been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies," said Mercado during Tuesday's press conference. "It just hurts."
According to a statement provided by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, it concluded an investigation in March 2021 after receiving information through the abuse hotline about a child at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital who was suffering from severe malnutrition and failure to thrive.
"Ultimately the child, by order of a judge, was sheltered and treatment took place. The parents refused to cooperate," read the statement. "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."
The statement added: "On 08/11/21, after repeated attempts to make contact with the parents, we executed a pick-up order signed by a family court judge. We are not able to comment further."
The couple is being represented by lawyers Derrick McBurrows and Louis Baptiste. They are also being supported by activists and civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand along with the activist group We Have the Right to Be Right, which has supported the family.
"We have all seen the video that went viral of the police taking their newborn daughter from her mother's arms on the side of the road without wearing masks, making a spectacle out of this Black family and publicly dehumanizing them," Crump said during the press conference on Tuesday.
The couple thanked their supporters and advocates during the press conference and said they are fighting to regain custody of their children.
"The only thing that we have ever done as parents is make responsible decisions, loving decisions," said Deener. "We have no criminal background. We have no history with DCF. We have done nothing wrong."
"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," Deneer said. "If this can happen to us, it can happen to you."
"We just want our babies back, and we want everybody that has been a part of removing our children to be held accountable. It's that simple," he added.
An attorney for Mercado said Tuesday that CPS became involved because of allegations of medical neglect. Mercado took her son to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on Feb. 26 for dehydration due to him struggling with the transition from breast milk to solid foods.
Instead of returning home with his mother, the child was placed in the care of CPS.
"I went somewhere to get assistance, my baby was supposed to come home with me," said Mercado, the mother of the children. "We should have never been criminalized for getting assistance for something."
McBurrows said Tuesday that CPS alleged that Mercado didn't seek medical attention prior to a basic medical visit back at Johns Hopkins.
"We've explicitly provided evidence that completely refutes that," he said at the press conference. "It's a complete lie. It's a complete fabrication."
According to the attorney, Mercado took her son to Englewood Community Hospital on Jan. 30.
In a statement provided to ABC News, the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital said their first priority, "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. 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," read the statement. "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."
McBurrows confirmed that the children are currently in the care of "an estranged relative" and the parents have visitation once a week.
"We don't want to say where for their safety, but they are not with their parents," Baptiste said Tuesday. "And not with the person they would choose."
Mercado cried at Tuesday's press conference as she reflected on "missing out on so many precious moments" with her children.
"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," she said. "I didn't get to see that and I can't go back and redo that moment, I'll never be able to go back and redo that moment."
Lawyers representing the parents announced during the press conference that they plan to take legal action, including several motions and filing an appeal to hold "every actor and even the court respectfully accountable."
"We will win this case," said McBurrows. "We will bring these children back home."
Baptiste also said that the legal team is working to reunite the family immediately.
"We're calling on DCF and its staff, CPS, everyone involved and that every stakeholder involved in that process to recognize what's going on here," said Baptiste. "To recognize the injustice, and to recognize that these children need to be back with their parents."