DCS seeks prosecution of Black parents, lawyers for speaking about kids’ removal after traffic stop
Family attorney calls the motions “retaliatory”
Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams were on the way to Chicago for a family funeral when they were pulled over in Coffee County. Williams was arrested and their young children taken from them. (Screengrab from Zoom)
The Department of Children’s Services has filed a motion for prosecution and sanctions against the Black parents of five young children taken into DCS custody on February 17, according to Courtney Teasley, an attorney for the family.
DCS accuses the parents, and their attorneys, of breaking juvenile court confidentiality rules, Teasley said.
The motion for prosecution and sanctions is among a flurry of legal filings filed in Coffee County Juvenile Court late Thursday that also include a motion to quash subpoenas of caseworker personnel files sought by the family’s attorneys and a motion for contempt, accordingly to Teasley.
The motions were filed in the hours following the publication of a Lookout report on the removal of the children after at traffic stop in rural Coffee County by the Tennessee Highway Patrol gained widespread attention and outrage.
The legal filings come in advance of a previously scheduled juvenile court hearing Monday in Manchester, Tenn. at which attorneys for the parents plan to seek the return of the children, aged 4 months to 7 years old.
The parents — Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams — were quoted in a story that appeared in the Lookout about a series of events on Feb. 17 that began with the family — on their way from Georgia to Chicago for a funeral — being pulled over for tinted windows and driving in the left lane on Highway 24.
THP records show that Williams was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession after troopers found five grams in his car.
The THP has denied a request by the Lookout for dash- and body-cam footage of the stop, citing an ongoing investigation and state rules that limit release of records that “directly or indirectly identifies a child or a family member receiving services from DCS.”
Clayborne was cited and released. She described being detained in the parking lot of the Coffee County Justice Center. The children were removed once the family entered the building to post bond for Williams.
I want people to know what they're doing to Black people in these small towns behind closed doors. Usually the only time people pay attention is when another Black person is killed, and there's another hashtag.
– Courtney Teasley, attorney for Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams
In court the week after the traffic stop, the couple submitted to urine drug screens. Clayborne was negative; Williams was positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, according to reports reviewed by the Lookout. Subsequent instant hair follicle tests returned positive for fentanyl, methamphetamines and other substances for both parents, who deny consuming those drugs.
A court administrator told the Lookout the instant tests are inadmissible in court, and an expert said such instant tests yield false positives, but DCS used them as the basis for alleging severe abuse of the children.
The couples’ attorneys notified DCS on March 1 they intended to challenge the results of the hair follicle tests. On March 9, DCS’ attorney, Sheila Younglove, said she had spoken to the judge in the case in the hallway; he informed her the tests had not been preserved — now another point of contention in the case because court rules generally bar attorneys from informally speaking to a judge about any aspect of a case without all attorneys present.
On Friday, Teasley said DCS’ new motions had only strengthened her resolve to speak out about the way the family has been treated.
“A retaliatory motion has been filed in an effort to stop me, their personal family lawyer, from telling the world about how they are oppressing black people under the guise of confidentiality,” Teasley tweeted Friday.
“I want people to know what they’re doing to Black people in these small towns behind closed doors,” she said.
Teasley cited other historical efforts to shine a light on violence and discrimination against Black people, including Emmett Till’s open casket and historic marches in Selma.
“Usually the only time people pay attention is when another Black person is killed, and there’s another hashtag,” she said. “I want to show what happens to Black people before the hashtag.”
Teasley, who does not represent the family in either the DCS case nor the misdemeanor criminal case against Williams, has organized a press conference Monday morning with the parents after the juvenile hearing.
The couple’s children, including their breastfeeding four-month-old son, remain in DCS custody. The children were initially split up and placed with three different foster homes after they were taken into custody, their mother previously told the Lookout.
They are now are together with a relative of the family in the Nashville area serving as an official foster parent.
On Thursday, the Tennessee Democratic Caucus demanded that DCS return the children.
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