UPDATE: The parents appeared in court Monday.
COFFEE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The five children of a couple from Georgia were put in state custody after their parents were pulled over in Tennessee and charged with a misdemeanor.
Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams were traveling from Georgia to Chicago for a funeral when they were pulled over in Coffee County, Tennessee.
According to the affidavit, the traffic stop was for having dark-tinted windows and using the left lane without actively passing.
After being pulled over, the state trooper smelled marijuana and found about 5 grams of it in the car, according to court documents.
Later on, Clayborne’s children were taken into Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) custody after a court ruling. The kids range in age from 4 months to 7 years old.
“When I went to go reach him, the man grabbed me, he said, ‘Don’t touch him,'” Clayborne said, remembering the moments her children were taken out of her custody. “My oldest child, he looked at me all confused and I just gave him a hug and told him, ‘It’s not your fault.'”
Clayborne’s attorneys said they don’t believe this would’ve escalated in the same way if his clients looked different or were from a different background.
Following the publication of Clayborne’s story in The Tennessee Lookout, Tennessee Senate Democrats called for DCS to release the children back to their parents.
“It is outrageous that the state forcefully separated Bianca Clayborne, a breastfeeding mother, and Deonte Williams from their kids and have allowed this to continue for nearly a month. The state exercised extreme and flawed judgment in taking their children and it seems they’ve doubled down on this poor decision,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis).
The same sentiment was echoed by Akbari’s colleagues.
“It is an unacceptable abuse of power for state officials to rip five children away from their parents over a misdemeanor possession charge when DCS cannot even take care of the kids they already have in custody,” said Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis).
In a statement, the Coffee County District Attorney said there is more to the story than Clayborne and her attorneys are publicly releasing.
“Certainly, there are more facts and circumstances that exist that the defendants have chosen not to disclose during their efforts to try this matter in the court of public opinion and the realm of politics. My office will only try this matter in the criminal court of law,” said District Attorney Craig Northcott.
Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) said there was a weapon in the vehicle in possession of a convicted felon, but no evidence of those charges being filed has been released to the public.
“We did not arrest the mother, in this particular case, with the intentions of leaving the children with her and that’s where we left it,” said THP Col. Matt Perry. “The mother had custody of the children when we were done.”
According to DCS officials, they can’t comment on ongoing cases and emphasized the decision to put children in state custody falls to the courts.
“DCS and law enforcement follow protocol for collecting evidence. Those findings are then presented to the court. In this instance, the evidence resulted in the court placing children in DCS custody,” said a DCS spokesperson.
Clayborne’s attorneys said DCS has retaliated against them for releasing certain legal documents to the public, but DCS has not responded to comment on that.
Yet, while lawyers and government officials go back and forth, Clayborne said she feels like she is grieving.
“It’s like death,” she said. “Losing someone you can cope with because they are not with you any longer, but having children out in the world [and] you physically can’t see or touch [them], is mind-boggling.”