Syesha Mercado regains custody of her son after seven-month battle

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
An Instagram post from former “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado shows her reunited with her 20-month old son after he was placed in foster care over health concerns.

Former “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado and her partner, Tyron Deener, have regained custody of their 20-month-old son Amen’ Ra after a seven-month battle with state and local health authorities involving concerns of malnutrition.

Mercado posted on Instagram “AMEN’RA IS OFFICIALLY HOME” to accompany a seven-minute video showing her singing “happy, happy Ra” while her son giggles and claps along in his car seat.

“Ra is officially back with us, but it’s not over with,” Deener says as he drives them. “We’ve got to deal with six months of supervision with the state coming to our home every week for the next six months to show that we (are) competent and able to raise our own baby.”

Previously:Manatee authorities take newborn of Syesha Mercado

First custody case:'American Idol' star Syesha Mercado fights for son's custody

Navigating a custody battle:Estranged relative caring for children of Syesha Mercado

Spotlight on Syesha:The career of singer Syesha Mercado

In a separate Instagram video, Mercado said, “Our son is exactly where he needs to be. He’s home. He’s with his family, but he never should have been taken in the first place.” She added that the “family is still living this nightmare with the state.”

She said over the last seven months, Ra “has been unnecessarily traumatized.” Mercado said she and Deener can see the impact of their separation “in his eyes.”

“We see it in the way he plays,” Mercado said. “We see it in the ways he tries to rest at night. They have put our son through a lot of trauma. The crazy thing is they actually put in their documentation that it would be traumatizing to remove Ra from our care. But they still did it.”

The custody battle began in February when the couple brought their son to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for a medical checkup because Ra was not transitioning from breast milk to other fluids. They were removed from the hospital grounds two weeks later even as their baby remained in the facility. Ra was later placed with one foster family before he was moved to the care of Xtavia Bailey, one of Mercado’s sisters.

The couple, who are vegans and live holistically, have maintained that doctors don’t understand their lifestyle and that there is a racial element to the case.

“These people are afraid of the word vegan,” Mercado said. “This is unacceptable. This is 2021. These are words people use. These are lifestyles people practice. This is nothing new.”

She said they are now focused on trying to “heal from it. But how do we heal? They want us to heal by weighing our son on a regular basis.”

In the video, Mercado said authorities require that Ra cannot lose weight. 

“I’m still trying to figure out with these follow-up appointments at the hospital where we’re banned from how we are going to exactly do that,” she said.

Syesha Mercado talked about her battle to bring home her son Amen’Ra after a seven-month custody fight during an Instagram video.

The case involves Dr. Sally Smith, who leads the child protection team in Pinellas County and oversees nearly every case at All Children’s Hospital with suspicious injuries. She is considered one of the most powerful figures in the child welfare system on Florida’s Gulf Coast and she has been criticized by defense attorneys, parents and child welfare workers for an aggressive approach in interrogating parents.

The USA Today Network, as part of an investigation into Florida’s child welfare system, reviewed hundreds of her cases and found more than a dozen instances where charges were dropped, parents were acquitted or caregivers had credible claims of innocence yet suffered irredeemable damage to their lives and reputations.

Read the full foster care investigation:Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.

The story has garnered national attention in part because of Mercado’s notoriety. A graduate of Booker High School’s Visual and Performing Arts program, she went on to be a finalist on the seventh season of “American Idol” and, as an actress and singer, appeared on Broadway in “The Book of Mormon” and in national touring musicals, including “Dreamgirls.”

Several attorneys and organizations, including We Have the Right to Be Right, have been involved in the effort to bring Ra home.

In early August, Mercado gave birth to a baby girl, who was taken from the couple 10 days later by Manatee County sheriff’s deputies to have her checked at the hospital. She was returned to Mercado and Deener within two weeks. A video of the deputies talking with the couple before taking the baby was viewed more than 3.5 million times on Instagram.

In the video, Deener cites a number of similar cases and says the outpouring of support will have a domino effect on other cases.

“Evil can no longer prevail no more in this reality,” he said. “Spell evil backwards, you gotta live.”

The couple has raised more than $465,000 in a Go Fund Me online campaign to pay for legal fees and other expenses. Mercado said they are starting a non-profit organization because “we don’t want this to happen to other families. This is our mission to protect other families, help other families. Most people don’t know about this. They don’t know you can go to a hospital and you can literally leave without your baby.”

Related:Syesha Mercado raises nearly $400,000 to fight custody battle

Follow Jay Handelman on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Contact him at jay.handelman@heraldtribune.comAnd please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.