Syesha Mercado, a former finalist on "American Idol," broke down in tears as she talked about the struggles of trying to regain custody of her toddler son and newborn daughter after the children were taken away by authorities.
"This is my first time being a mom and I've been deprived of holding my babies and feeding my babies. 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," she said at a press conference on Tuesday.
"I'm just missing out on so many precious moments," she continued. "I've been deprived of that and I don't know how to articulate it, but it just hurts so bad."
Earlier this year, Mercado's son, Amen’Ra, was taken by Child Protective Services when he was 13 months old. Her daughter, Ast, was taken last week, just days after Mercado gave birth. She posted an Instagram Live video of Manatee County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies stopping her car in a surprise welfare check and taking the child.
An attorney for Mercado said Tuesday that CPS got involved because of allegations of medical neglect. We Have the Right to Be Right, an activist group campaigning for the family, said 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 Amen'Ra being released to his mother, he was placed in the care of CPS.
Attorney Derrick McBurrows told reporters that CPS alleged that Mercado had not taken her son for a medical visit prior to bringing him to 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.
"The mother was having lactation issues," McBurrows said. "This is a first-time mother who was seeking help yet she was criminalized."
Authorities took Mercado's newborn daughter, he added, because they were "piggy-backing off of Amen'Ra being in a temporary medical placement."
Mercado's partner, Tyron Deener, told reporters that he thinks his family was judged and criminalized "because of how we present ourselves, our culture, the way we look." Both Mercado and Deener are Black.
"All we want is our babies home, and to have the people that are responsible for taking our babies, hold them accountable," he said at the press conference. "The only thing that we have ever done as parents is make responsible decisions, loving decisions."
He added: "Every single day we have to wake up and look at our babies' setup and look at their swings and look at their bedding and they're not here. And we have not committed any crime. We have not abused our babies. We have not done anything that is irresponsible as parents."
Louis Baptiste, another attorney for the family, said the children are together but are staying with a person the parents would not have chosen. McBurrows described the person as an "estranged relative."
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said via email on Wednesday that its Child Protection Investigation Division got involved after receiving information about a child at Johns Hopkins 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 sheriff's office said. "The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Child Protection Investigation Division was no longer directly involved and Safe Children’s Coalition handled the case from there, including the most recent decision to shelter a second child born into the parent’s care."
The sheriff's office said a family court judge signed a pick-up order to take the couple's daughter after repeated failed attempts to reach them.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is now handling the case and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.