The Wild Taking of “Idol” Singer Syesha Mercado & Tyron Deener’s Children is a Messy Exercise of Government Authority.
Written by KyleeliseTHT
8-13-2021 (updated 8-17-2021 and 8-20-2021)
It was just months before Syesha Mercado became pregnant with her first child, whom she and Tyrone Deener named Amen’Ra, that my husband and I saw her last. The American Idol finalist and her partner appeared to be living a quiet yet community-focused life in Southwest Florida.
Our visit was coincidental but delightful. I wasn’t aware at the time that Syesha is a very private woman. There was nothing about our time together that indicated any reserve. Maybe our connection eased the way.
I never interacted with Syesha during the heightened days of her stardom. I’d met her long before when she entered the same performing arts high school as my daughter. The two were among a few students of color in the prestigious arts magnet. So rare were the girls that some teachers and other parents said they were indistinguishable from one another in appearance. They do not look alike, but the coded reference was familiarly tired enough to ignore without thinking too deeply and feigning aghast.
The day we saw her, Syesha was attending to her young nieces and nephew - a talented group of youngsters, especially the nephew, who gifted me with a spontaneous and powerful performance on the spot. Like his aunt, the young man is a very talented singer!
When we’d first arrived, Syesha had just returned from picking up her kid crew, and they perched outside and filled baggies with fresh-cut sweet ripe watermelon to give away on this sweltering day curbside in front of a Jamaican restaurant in Sarasota, Fla. I gladly accepted a small sample.
Inside, my husband, Terry, and I met the singer’s partner, Tyron, for the first time. The younger man was eager to talk about the community-centered work he and Syesha were doing. At first, I thought he was kindly but directly trying to show that he measured up and was worthy of his relationship with the "Idol" star. Shortly into his nonpolitical spiel on their community work and dreams, it felt as if he understood that any questions we had were based on interest, not inspection. He relaxed, then, and spoke the way young people do when sharing their aspirations with an older ear- one that might offer a bit of advice or encouragement.
The very shy Syesha hugs affectionately, and her enormous warmth backs her beautiful smile.
She crafts and sells beautiful healing jewelry, and she markets other products for spiritual upliftment. Her family is her rock. Tyron is her worthy and equal dreamer and doer. She was still writing songs when I saw her and recording her music.
Typically - never really - does a writer bury the sensational parts of a subject’s story as deep as I have here. However, this is not a typical story. And it's difficult to align the subject with the part that follows.
On March 11, 2021, Florida’s Child Protective Services assumed custody over Syesha Mercado and Tyron Deener’s hospitalized 13-month-old son, Amen'Ra, after barring the couple from the hospital. They had taken the child to be evaluated at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Feb. 26, after Syesha could no longer provide a healthy flow of breastmilk and the child resisted other alternatives.
According to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the parents, at issue is whether Syesha and Tyson refused medical care for their potentially malnourished son by way of the administration of a B-12 intramuscular shot. In a self-made video, Tyron denies the claim and basis for his son’s removal.
Syesha gave birth to a second child on August 1, 2021. On the infant’s tenth day, she, too, was removed from her parents after a stakeout and eventually being surrounded by Manatee County Sheriff's Deputies as, according to the couple, they were driving to meet their attorney and to the courthouse.
During a live feed, Tyron appears to be speaking with his Tallahassee lawyer, Derrick McBurrows, who’d come to town the night before and mentioned that he was still at his Airbnb.
McBurrows, surprised by the actions taken by law enforcement, is heard saying that he’d already brokered a deal with the authorities during the early hours of the day.
Authorities took the newborn during the roadside stop. Tyron said sheriff’s deputies had followed them from their home as they drove.
Tyron has three children from a previous relationship that live with him and Syesha. The eight-, seven-, and five-year-olds were in the vehicle and witnessed being surrounded by law enforcement and their newborn stepsister being taken from her mother. Their father believes the ordeal was intentionally organized to humiliate the couple, who are steadfast in their claim that they were attempting to comply with the legal system's demands that day.
By that point, supporters had donated more than $200,000 through a GoFundMe effort to fund the couple’s legal defense. *The fund jumped to nearly $300,00 from more than 7,000 donors within 24 hours of the second child's removal, including a $4,444 inspired, lucky number contribution. The fundraising began when Child Protection took the couple’s first child.
Activist Donisha Prendergast, a granddaughter of the legendary musical artist Bob Marley, is a co-founder of We Have the Right to be Right. On May 9, 2021, the organization posted a 1-hour interview on YouTube with the couple, during which they gave their side of the ordeal that involved Amen'Ra's removal. The couple has also released two other videos through Syesha’s Instagram page.
Tyron and Syesha held a live press conference, also organized by We Have The Right to be Right, on August 17, 2021. With a visibly dispirited Syesha at his side, Tyron reiterated his need to be seen as a worthy man - a respectable man - a man without a criminal record - a husband, father, and defender of his family - active in his community. More than once, he said that their problems with officials and staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital had been triggered first by his physical appearance - Tyron's hair is styled in freestyle dreads. Secondly, Tyron added, the way he speaks and presents himself. The couple's vegan diet, culture, and lifestyle practices are also being scrutinized and "Criminalized," he added. Racism, he said, is another factor.
McBurrows has taken the lead in the couple's fight to get their children back.
Initially, referring to Amen'Ra, Syesha had said, “Our [son] has since been placed with a white foster family without interviewing qualified relatives or friends of our family for placement while they investigate. We are given limited information and presently only have weekly zoom visitation for an hour with … no court order stating these visitation limitations,” the NYPost transcribed from the couple's video.
During the August 17th presser, McBurrows said that Amen'Ra and his infant sister, Asset Sba, are now together in foster care, placed with "an estranged relative."
Amen'Ra met his infant sister through the foster care system. "I didn't get to see my babies meet for the first time, I didn't get to see that, and I can't go back and redo that moment; I will never be able to go back and redo that moment," Syesha lamented, recounting during the press conference several "firsts" and milestone moments she has missed with her children.
Visitation is conducted and supervised at a facility run by the Safe Children’s Coalition, which McBurrows described as "absolutely disgusting."
“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,” McBurrows said.
Few scant details about the case have come from the hospital, State, or law enforcement officials. Neither parent has been arrested for a crime.
Statement from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital:
Our first priority at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital is always the safety and privacy of our patients and their families. Therefore, we strictly follow privacy laws that limit the amount of information we can release regarding this particular case. However, we can say that our first responsibility is always to the child brought to us for care, and we are legally obligated to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) when we detect signs of possible abuse or neglect. It is DCF that investigates the situation and makes the ultimate decision about what course of action is in the best interests of the child.
Please Note: Dr. Sally Smith has medical privileges at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital but is not an employee of the hospital.
Statement from Department of Children and Families (DCF):
Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.) mandates that any person, including, but not limited to, law enforcement, education professionals, and healthcare professionals, who have experience in identifying signs of abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child, and who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare, shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Children are removed from caregivers when present danger for neglect or abuse is detected by highly-trained Child Protective Investigators. The Department of Children and Families’ number one priority is the safety of the child.
Our goal is always to reunify families as quickly as possible when all safety concerns are addressed. However, reunification is only possible when parties to a case work collaboratively towards this goal.
The Department’s actions are always to ensure the well-being of children. Any additional information would be confidential at this time, per Chapter 39.202, Florida Statutes.
Statement from Manatee County Sheriffs Office:
We concluded an investigation in March of 2021 after receiving information through the abuse hotline about a child at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital 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 Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Child Protection Investigation Division was no longer directly involved and Safe Children’s Coalition (case management) handled the case from there, including the most recent decision to shelter a second child born into the parent’s care.
In the first version of this piece, I wrote that "the couple might benefit from the advice of a good PR firm. The volume of video evidence they’ve posted might have gotten attention, but it’s also, now, evidence placed in the public domain." Much has changed. The couple's more recent public disclosures are far more measured, and they are careful not to disclose information that is confidential in nature or potentially detrimental.
A child abuse case entails a lot of confidentiality. Whether or not the State has anything that substantiates its actions remains to be heard.
I cannot say with authority nor credibility whether the couple starved their first-born child. I can, however, speculate, based on the brief but socially expansive time we spent with them, listening and watching a host of activities, interactions with the children in their care that day, and stories shared, that the State’s case is very likely questionable and, possibly, overzealous to the point of exploitation.
The family's GoFundMe balance continues to escalate, reaching more than $400,000 in the hours after the August 17th press conference.