Georgia kids taken into DCS custody after traffic stop not yet returned to parents

MANCHESTER, Tenn. − The Georgia couple who had their five children removed by the Department of Children's Services after a Coffee County traffic stop did not regain custody after a Juvenile Court hearing Monday.

Deonte Williams and Bianca Clayborne were driving from their home in Georgia to a funeral in Chicago with their five children when they were stopped by Tennessee Highway Patrol on Feb. 17 for "dark tint and traveling in the left lane while not actively passing," according to the Tennessee Lookout, which first reported the story.

After the stop, Williams was charged with simple possession of a controlled substance, court records show. The Lookout reported the charge was for possessing less than five grams of marijuana. Clayborne was eventually charged with simple possession as well, a misdemeanor.

Several hours after the stop, while Clayborne was at Coffee County Justice Center to bond out Williams, the Department of Children's Services took custody of all five of the couple's children. The family is Black and the case has drawn the attention activists over whether race played a role in the traffic stops and DCS case.

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On Monday, following a Juvenile Court hearing that took place more than a month after the children were removed from their parents, attorney Courtney Teasley said the children would not be returning home with their parents. Teasley, who is representing Clayborne related to the possession charge, said Clayborne had agreed to a hair follicle test.

"The children are not being returned today," Teasley said in front of the courthouse. "The mother will have to submit to a hair follicle test."

There were few additional details, as juvenile court proceedings are confidential under Tennessee law. Teasley declined to say when the hair follicle test would be completed or when the couple would have to appear again in Juvenile Court. Both Clayborne and Williams had their criminal court dates continued until April 18.

The Coffee County Justice Center in Manchester, Tenn.
The Coffee County Justice Center in Manchester, Tenn.

The children include a four-month-old breastfeeding baby as well as four siblings between the ages of two and seven years old, The Lookout reported.

DCS spokesperson Alex Denis declined to speak to the case specifically, citing state law. But said the law was in place to protect children's "well-being" and "anonymity."

"We appreciate the public's interest in the safety and well-being of these children," Denis said. "That is our main focus."

On Friday, Senate Democrats, including minority leader Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, called on DCS to return the children to the couple.

"No family is perfect, but an imperfection, like a simple marijuana charge, is no excuse for tearing a family apart," Akbari said.

While the juvenile court proceedings were closed to the media, the hearing attracted DCS officials and caseworkers to the courthouse. Representatives from Middle Tennessee's social justice advocacy community also came in support of Williams and Clayborne and called for the kids to be returned to their parents.

"I am here today because DCS has been keeping children in offices and hallways, but has the nerve to come in and say that these children are in danger," said Theeda Murphy, executive director of No Exceptions Prison Collective.

Murphy criticized the state for efforts to close the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, which she described as DCS's "watchdog agency," as well as legislation that would allow the state to put some youth offenders in the adult prison system.

"The state of Tennessee has no respect for Black families," Murphy said. "The state of Tennessee has no love for Black children."

Denis, the DCS spokesperson, said the case managers working the case "come from diverse backgrounds" and noted that 35 percent of the DCS workforce is African American.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: TN DCS: Georgia kids taken into custody after traffic stop not back with parents