‘American Idol’ alum Syesha Mercado accuses CPS of ‘medical kidnapping’ in harrowing custody battle

·7 min read

On August 11, 2021, thousands of Instagram users watched live as authorities took custody of Syesha Mercado’s 10-day-old baby girl, Ast. 

Since then, the 70-minute-long footage has been viewed over 3 million times, lighting confusion and outrage in its wake. 

But this was not the first child taken from the American Idol alum and her partner, educator and youth service professional, Tyron Deneer. 

Five months ago, on March 11, 2021, the couple’s then-15-month-old son, Amen’Ra, was also taken into custody by CPS (Child Protective Services) after a seemingly routine hospital visit to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since then, the toddler has remained in foster care as the couple has fought to regain custody.

Now, parents around the world are crying foul against the Child Protective Services system, even accusing authorities and medical professionals involved in the case of “medical kidnapping.”

But with investigations still ongoing and emotions around the case running high, making heads or tails of the situation is challenging. 

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Who is Syesha Mercado?

In 2008, during the seventh season of American Idol, singer, songwriter and actress Syesha Mercado was named the third-place finalist of the competition, launching a bright career for the young performer.

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Since then, the 34-year-old Florida native has toured nationally as the lead role of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, performed on Broadway in Book of Mormon and appeared on numerous talk shows and events. 

But, according to her GoFundMe page, Syesha’s proudest accomplishment in life is “being a Mommy to my beautiful baby boy, Amen’Ra and new baby girl, Ast.” 

Syesha also states that she is a holistic nutritionist who has “helped many in my community transition into” a holistic lifestyle.

Why was 15-month-old Amen’Ra taken by authorities?

In a statement made to Fox News, a spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reported that doctors from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital contacted authorities about concerns over Amen’Ra’s health, stating the toddler was malnourished and underweight. 

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“Our investigators learned through medical professionals that this child was malnourished, underweight, very unhealthy. And we were also told by these medical professionals that unless he got the treatment that he needed — ongoing, consistent treatment — that he would die,” the spokesperson said. “It was our understanding that there had been a lack of medical care.”

But according to Syesha and Tyron’s call-to-action website, Amen’Ra was a healthy baby who was “in transition to eating more solids and drinking independently” and was “refusing to take an adequate amount of fluids.”

As their petition alleges, Syesha first came to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital on February 25th, 2021, to “be assisted in receiving more fluids for Amen’Ra.”

“Amen’Ra was a breastfed baby yet had been also eating solid foods since he was 6 months old. Due to Syesha currently being pregnant, her milk supply went down, and Amen’Ra was refusing to consume an adequate amount of fluids from a bottle or sippy cup,” their petition states. 

“While in Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Syesha was able to get Amen’Ra to consume an adequate amount of fluids after a few days. The Hospital wanted to Keep Amen’Ra longer for observation.

“On March 11th, 2021, CPI [Child Protective Investigator] officer Danielle McCoy of Manatee County Sheriff’s Department and armed officers from Pinellas County Sheriff’s department walked into the hospital room and said they are removing Amen’Ra from the parents’ care due to refusing a B12 shot. The Parents NEVER refused a B12 shot,” their petition continues.

Syesha and Tyron also allege that officer Danielle McCoy “coerced Syesha into signing a safety plan… under mental duress.” 

“Amen’Ra was removed from the parents’ care and placed in foster care two weeks later, without interviewing any relatives or friends of the family for ‘family placement,'” their petition adds.

Since information from child abuse and neglect records may not be disclosed to the public under most circumstances (to protect children’s privacy rights under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act), little is known about Amen’Ra’s case from the perspective of authorities.

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Why was 10-day-old Ast taken by authorities?

On August 1, 2021, five months after Amen’Ra was taken into custody by CPS, Syesha gave birth at home to a daughter they named Ast.

But just 10 days later, baby Ast would also be removed from the family’s care by CPS, aided by local law enforcement — much to the outrage of Instagram followers watching live.

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“On August 11, while we were on our way to the Sheriff’s office to do a wellness check, we were surrounded by flashing lights and armed officers who unjustly took Ast from me on the side of the road,” the family’s GoFundMe page states.

Since then, the footage of baby Ast’s removal has gone viral, and both outrage toward authorities and support for Syesha’s family have come flooding in — even from the celebrity world.

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In a press conference, Syesha and Tyron stated that deputies took Ast because they “didn’t tell authorities she’d given birth during their ongoing legal battle for their son.”

What are the social justice concerns?

In their GoFundMe details, the grieving couple states, “We MUST Shine Light on the CPS Corruption and INJUSTICE that is happening all around the world to our Black and brown babies and families.”

They also refer to the removal of Amen’Ra and Ast from their home as the “medical kidnapping and legalized kidnapping of our offspring.”

They go on to write, “The Manatee County Commissioner recently declared that ‘Racism is a county public health crisis.’ Our son Amen’Ra is a prime example of that. My family and I are just one in countless other stories of the taking of children from caring parents that go unheard and unseen.”

According to We Have the Right to be Right, a social justice organization advocating for Syesha and Tyron, Amen’Ra was examined by Dr. Sally Smith, the subject of a USA Today Network investigation who has been accused of being “too quick to diagnose child abuse” — an allegation Smith has denied. 

But according to Captain Dennis E. Romano Jr., commander of the Child Protection Investigation Division at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, authorities involved in the case only want what’s best for Amen’Ra and Ast.

“We understand that from the outside looking in … [the division’s] actions seem uncaring, but let me assure you, we have the best interest of children and families in mind at all times,” Captain Romano said in a statement to E! News.

According to Romano, when “the need arises” to shelter children, the families are “given guidance” on how to reunite with their children.

Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney currently working with the family, vows to help bring Amen’ra and Ast home. Meanwhile, the family’s GoFundMe page, intended to help cover legal fees, has hit over $400,000, well exceeding its $200,000 goal.

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