Police Found a Blunt in Their Car. So They Seized Their Kids.
"Then my baby started crying so I reached for my son, and as I'm reaching, a man held me and told me, 'Don't touch him. He's getting taken away from you,'" said the children's mother.
Last month, Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams were driving through rural Tennessee with their five young children when they were pulled over. When police found 5 grams of marijuana in the car, Williams was arrested and the five children were seized by local child protective services. One month later, the couple is still fighting to regain custody of their children.
According to the Tennessee Lookout, on February 17, Clayborne and Williams were driving from their home outside Atlanta to a family funeral in Illinois when police pulled them over. The couple was reportedly pulled over for "dark tint" on their windows and "traveling in the left lane while not actively passing." The couple says that when they pulled off the highway and stopped at a nearby gas station, police ordered Williams out of the car and placed him in the back of a police cruiser, while Clayborne and the children—all under 7 years old, including an infant—were escorted inside the gas station. The couple says that officers began aggressively searching the vehicle, and a dog was brought in to sniff their possessions.
"My son was terrified," Clayborne told the Lookout. "He said this was just like TV; this was like TV. I was just holding him by his face and I'm just like 'don't think like that, don't think like that. It's going to be ok, it's going to be ok.'" Soon, police found a blunt in the car, leading police to arrest Williams.
Clayborne says she hoped to quickly bail Williams out and continue on their trip, but once she arrived in the parking lot of the Coffee County Criminal Justice Center, where Williams was taken, she says she was approached by several caseworkers from the Department of Children's Services (DCS), who told her they would be taking custody of her children.
"Then my baby started crying so I reached for my son, and as I'm reaching, a man held me and told me, 'don't touch him. He's getting taken away from you,'" Clayborne told the Lookout "I just sat there crying, crying, crying."
Nearly a month later, the couple has still not been able to regain custody of their children. While the couple's attorneys have called DCS' seizure of the children "extreme" and "abnormal," the state seems unwilling to return the children to their parents despite considerable procedural errors, according to the couple.
According to the Lookout, it seems that DCS first became involved after receiving an incorrect report stating that both parents were arrested—a scenario that would require the involvement of child protective services to ensure the children were cared for. However, the caseworkers still proceeded after finding that only Williams had been arrested. The Lookout reports that caseworkers obtained an emergency custody petition on the premise that "the children were neglected and there was no 'less drastic' alternative to taking the children from their parents."
Further, the Lookout reports that when Clayborne and Williams were subjected to urine drug tests six days later. Williams tested positive for marijuana, while Clayborne's test came back negative. However, when the couple was given rapid hair follicle drug tests, both tested positive for methamphetamines, fentanyl, and oxycodone. Both Williams and Clayborne deny using those drugs. And according to one Coffee County court administrator, the rapid hair follicle drug tests are "not court admissible."
Nevertheless, DCS argued in a petition to keep the children that "as a result of the drug screens, the children should be deemed to be severely abused." The couple's lawyers told the Lookout that they planned on challenging the results of the drug test but were told that the drug court does not "hold onto" the results of the tests.
The ordeal has placed tremendous emotional and financial strain on the couple. Their children are held in Tennessee, though the family lives in Georgia, necessitating frequent, costly trips. Clayborne told the Lookout that the children are incredibly distressed by the separation, and "her children cry when she speaks to them on the phone, and grab onto her when she ends her visits with them."
Unfortunately, Williams and Clayborne aren't alone. According to one study from Washington University in St. Louis researchers, as many as 1 in 3 children are the subject of a child protective services investigation by the time they turn 18. For black families, like Clayborne and Williams, the numbers are even more troubling—with over half of black children estimated to be the subject of an investigation.
"I just have to believe if my clients looked different or had a different background, they would have just been given a citation and told you just keep this stuff away from the kids while you're in this state and they'd be on their way," the couple's attorney told the Lookout.