State continues to hold 5 Black children snatched after traffic stop and placed in foster care

The Tennessee Highway Patrol cited tinted vehicle windows and failure to pass in the left lane when they stopped Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams in Coffee County last month.

A Black couple has been without their five children for 30 days after Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services put them in foster care following a traffic stop.

Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) officers cited tinted vehicle windows and failure to pass in the left lane when they stopped Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams in Coffee County last month. According to The Tennessee Lookout, the couple was traveling from their home in Georgia to a family funeral in Chicago.

Williams was arrested after a search of the family’s vehicle turned up five grams of marijuana, a misdemeanor in Tennessee. Clayborne was cited and released with the couple’s children — aged 7, 5, 3, 2, and a nursing 4-month-old — but DCS forcefully removed them less than six hours later while she awaited Williams’ bond release.

Tennessee Department of Children's Services
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is continuing to retain custody of five children taken from a Black couple from Georgia following a traffic stop. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Nashville)

“When I went to go reach him, the man grabbed me. He said, ‘Don’t touch him,'” recalled Clayborne, according to WKRN News. “My oldest child, he looked at me all confused, and I just gave him a hug and told him, ‘It’s not your fault.'”

Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott claimed in a statement that there is more to the story than Clayborne and her lawyers disclosed “during their efforts to try this matter in the court of public opinion and the realm of politics.”

The Tennessee Highway Patrol claimed a convicted felon had a weapon in the car, but no proof of the accusations has been made public.

The children were initially divided and put in three separate foster homes but now reside with relatives in the Nashville area who agreed to foster them, according to The Lookout.

Clayborne and Williams consented to urine drug tests a week after DCS took their children. Clayborne tested negative, but Williams tested positive for THC, the active component of marijuana. 

The couple subsequently submitted rapid hair follicle tests, and both were positive for methamphetamines, oxycodone, and fentanyl, drugs they dispute using.

A Coffee County court administrator declared the results inadmissible, and a specialist noted that rapid hair follicle tests are notorious for returning false positives. 

Nevertheless, DCS charged Clayborne and Williams with grave child abuse based on the findings, claiming in court filings that the children alleged their father took them on drug deals. Williams called the accusations “absolute lunacy.”

Theeda Murphy, executive director of the No Exceptions Prison Collective, pointed out that DCS has come under intense public scrutiny for how it treats children in its custody, The Lookout reported. The organization allegedly doesn’t have enough suitable placements for the children, who are left sleeping on office floors for months.

Still, she said, the organization “has the nerve” to say the children are in danger and try to silence anyone who attempts to call them out.

Murphy contended that the state “has no respect for Black families” or Black children, The Lookout reported. “I’m here to tell you that, baby, it is 2023, not 1823. We are going to fight for our children, and we’re going to win.”

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