Syesha Mercado, a former “American Idol” finalist embroiled in a battle with authorities to regain custody of her toddler son after he was unexpectedly placed in foster care earlier this year, has now had her newborn daughter taken away from her, too.
On Wednesday, Mercado broadcast an Instagram Live video showing Manatee County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies surrounding her car and insisting that she surrender her days-old baby in a surprise welfare check off to the side of a road.
In the video, Mercado holds the infant in a fluffy pink blanket and begs deputies not to take her, explaining the baby is breastfed.
After pumping a couple ounces of breast milk in the back of her car into a bottle to go with her daughter, Mercado starts to slowly carry her over to deputies.
“How could you guys do this? Do you not feel anything?” she asks at one point before starting to sob. “My baby is days old and you’re taking my baby away from me. You’re taking my baby away from me. You have no heart. This is so wrong.”
The video, which lasts for over an hour, has been viewed more than 1.3 million times and has prompted outrage among Mercado’s supporters, who feel racism has played a part in her case, along with other injustices. Mercado and her partner, Tyron Deener, who was also in the car during the confrontation, are both Black.
The couple’s nightmare initially began in late February when they took their one-year-old son, Amen’Ra, to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, for dehydration when he was struggling with the transition from breast milk to solid foods, according to We Have the Right to Be Right, an activist group campaigning for Mercado.
While there, the group says, Amen’Ra was assessed by Dr. Sally Smith, a physician who was the subject of a USA Today Network investigation for being accused by critics of being too quick to conclude caregivers are abusing children, something Smith denied to USA Today Network. The investigation reviewed hundreds of Smith’s cases and found more than a dozen instances in which charges were dropped or parents were acquitted, but their reputations forever tarnished.
In Mercado’s case, instead of Amen’Ra being released to his parents at the end of his hospital stay, he was put into the hands of the Manatee Child Protective Services.
In a statement to NBC News on Friday, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said it had received information from the hospital’s child abuse line that a boy was “severely malnourished,” which Mercado disputes. Mercado says a child protective officer also accused her of denying her son a B12 shot that the hospital recommended.
“Amen’Ra was forcefully and legally kidnapped from us by CPS, who claim we refused a B12 shot that was a matter of life and death, which is an absolute lie. We never refused a B12 shot, and at no point was he on the verge of death,” Mercado wrote in a GoFundMe account she created to cover legal fees; it has received more than $230,000 in donations.
The boy was discharged to a foster family without anyone consulting Mercado first on whether there were any family or friends qualified to house him, Mercado said. The foster family is white, she said, adding that she felt racial discrimination against parents of color and their children was pervasive and something that Amen’Ra’s case would shine a light on.
Mercado, who is an actor and a Broadway performer in addition to being a former “American Idol” contestant,” did not immediately reply to a request for comment from NBC News.
Her baby was still in protective custody after a hearing Thursday, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and Mercado continues to fight for custody of her son.
Authorities always try to place children with another family member prior to any other placement, Capt. Dennis Romano Jr., commander of the child protection investigation division of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement Friday, without commenting specifically on Mercado’s children’s cases.
When asked on Mercado’s Instagram Live video why they were taking her newborn, sheriff’s deputies said it was because the couple did not inform authorities that Mercado had given birth while she was in the midst of a legal battle over custody of her first child. In response, Deener tells the authorities that they had requested that all questions about them go through their attorney, something he said had not happened. The baby had just gone for a checkup the day before, the couple explains in the video, and received a clean bill of health.
Before handing over her daughter, Mercado questions again why she is being forced to give up her child.
“My baby is healthy and happy,” she said. “All you had to do was call the attorney. We have all the paperwork.”