Estranged relative caring for children of 'American Idol’ singer Syesha Mercado

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The two young children removed from “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado and her partner Tyron Deener over health concerns are now living with an estranged relative, an attorney said during a news conference Tuesday with the couple.

Lead attorney Derrick McBurrows said the children, 15-month-old Amen’Ra and 16-day-old Asset Sba, are with “an estranged relative,” and that Mercado and Deener are able to visit them once a week.

His co-counsel Louis Baptiste said the children are together.

“We don’t want to say where for their safety, but they are not with their parents,” Baptiste said. “And not with the person they would choose.”

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Tyron Deener, left, and Syesha Mercado talk about their efforts to win back custody of their 15-month old son and 16-day-old daughter during a Zoom news conference with their legal team on Tuesday.

Just ten days old at the time, the couple’s newborn girl was removed by authorities on Aug. 11 after their car was surrounded by Manatee County sheriff’s deputies. Deener’s 8, 7 and 5-year-old children from a previous relationship were in the car at the time.

Mercado and Deener have been working for more than three months to regain custody of their son, who was placed in foster care after what they thought was a routine trip to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg on Feb. 26. The couple was concerned about malnutrition after Mercado’s breast milk supply started to run dry and Amen’Ra would not accept other fluids.

Two weeks later, St. Petersburg Police removed the parents from the hospital for trespassing. Their son was discharged in late March and placed in foster care.

Deener said they have been targeted, at least in part, because they maintain a 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.”

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He said the Department of Children and Families, Child Protective Services and other authorities are “judging us, critiquing us. That’s outside their job. They’re supposed to be working hand-in-hand in building families, not destroying families.”

Wiping tears from her eyes, Mercado said, “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 ‘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.”

She said even though they are separated, “I feel my daughter. I feel her when she’s hungry. I know when she’s crying, and I can’t do anything.”

Attorney Derrick McBurrows is the lead attorney handling the custody case involving the two young children of “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado and Tyron Deener.

New attorneys brought on

McBurrows leads a legal team that has grown with the addition of two prominent civil rights attorneys.

Benjamin Crump has worked with the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Aubrey, Martin Lee Anderson and Breonna Taylor, while Jasmine Rand has worked as an attorney for the families of Martin and Michael Brown and as a media strategist for the George Floyd legal team.

McBurrows said there has been a “false narrative” created against Mercado and Deener that goes against state and federal laws and denied the parents their guaranteed right to due process “to raise their children, to practice their vegan lifestyle without judgment.”

Jasmine Rand is a prominent civil rights attorney and media strategist who has worked on cases involving George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Baptiste said the legal team is pursuing several approaches to getting the children returned.

“This case is based on animus that has been built on this family, against their beliefs, against their practices, what they choose to eat and what they choose not to eat,” Baptiste said. “If this family can be attacked because of what they believe, they practice a vegan lifestyle, then it shows that no family is safe, no child is safe.”

McBurrows said he was “permanently changed” by the couple’s visitation experience through the Safe Children’s Coalition, the local agency contracted by the state to handle foster care and child welfare.

“The facility was absolutely disgusting,” McBurrows said. “I could see tension on Syesha’s face, and she’s still trying to build a relationship with their children. I will never be the same after the pain and shame they had to go through.”

Baptiste said there was no need for authorities to take the girl, whom he described as “a fully healthy baby girl.” Prior to Aug. 11, “every second she existed she was with her mother,” he said. He added that whenever the boy was taken for medical attention “he was brought by this family. Every single instance, they sought help, they sought guidance.”

Attorney Louis Baptiste addresses a news conference on the child custody case involving two young children of Syesha Mercado and Tyron Deener.

He said the family has the right “to seek their choice of medical treatment. They have the right to practice their beliefs. The record is clear. At every single instance, these parents have done that. They always have made the best medical decisions for their children.”

Baptiste said the boy’s case is “already pending,” and there is “no firm timeline.” 

As for the baby girl, “that train has just left the station,” he said. “We’re hoping we can get a hearing on that case before September.” 

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