A Tennessee Highway Patrol stop that lead to a drug-related arrest and the seizure of a Georgia woman's five children has gained state-wide attention after Coffee County Juvenile Court declined a request to return the children.
Judge Greg Perry has issued a gag order, presumably because of the high profile nature of the case. Jamaal Boykin, a Nashville attorney represents the Geofamily in their custody case.
A gathering of NAACP members from across the state came to protest the court's dissension in front of the justice center on March 24.
The family, Bianca Clayborne and Deonte Williams, were traveling from Georgia to Chicago to attend a funeral in February of this year, when Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) officers pulled them over on Exit 114 for having “dark tint and traveling in the left lane while not actively passing.”
The family was removed from the vehicle upon stopping, with Williams being placed in the patrol vehicle while the family was accompanied inside the gas station they had stopped at. According to the THP report, 5 grams of marijuana were found in the vehicle. Law enforcement also found a gun. Neither have been charged with weapons violations.
Williams was arrested and brought to the Justice Center, while Clayborne was directed to follow in order to post bond and return to their trip. Upon arriving at the justice center, Clayborne had her children taken from her upon an emergency court order placed by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).
Her children range in ages from 4 months to 7 years old, with the infant still breastfeeding upon time of removal.
While Williams tested positive for THC, the active ingredient for marijuana, in his initial urine test, Clayborne tested negative. Initial rapid hair follicle testing came back positive for methamphetamines, fentanyl and oxycodone in both parents, which both deny using.
The challenged positive testing for the hair follicle test was the basis for DCS changing the children’s status from neglect to abuse in their emergency hold order, leading to the children being held by the state of Tennessee for over a month at this time.
On March 20, the family came before the Coffee County Juvenile Court to plead for their children to be returned, which was denied pending a second hair follicle drug test for Clayborne. District Attorney General Craig Northcott previously said that there is more to the case than the defense has revealed, noting the case will be decided in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion.
NAACP members in the crowd came from across the state to protest the March 20 decision to deny the family custody, with leaders from Clarksville, Cookeville and Franklin County, as well as the 1st Vice President of the Tennessee State Conference.
Franklin County President Lisa Rung began the speeches and introduced the other representatives and speakers.
“The Franklin County NAACP stands in solidarity with the Williams-Clayborne family,” she said. “We demand the immediate release of the children and a full investigation into all departments and jurisdictions involved in the affair. The nightmare is not over until we have guaranteed this will never happen to another family ever again.”
Thomas Savage, the 1st Vice President of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, was present, representing President and CEO Derrick Johnson and the 64-member board of directors of the NAACP.
Savage was selected to represent Gloria J. Sweetlove, Tennessee State Conference President of the NAACP and the adult members and youth and college chapters represented in all three divisions of the state of Tennessee.
“The Tennessee State Conference NAACP is deeply concerned and disturbed by the situation that occurred here in Manchester, involving an African-American couple, who while traveling with their five children, were pulled over by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Coffee County,” Savage said in his speech. “The couple’s children were unjustly, maliciously and aggressively taken into Department of Children and Family Services’ custody without probable cause. The Tennessee NAACP and other civil rights groups have ample evidence that the children were unjustly taken into DCS custody.”
Savage went on to cite the reported situation in the Tennessee DCS system of instability in regards to the care of foster children. According to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), at their annual State of the Child Report, Tennessee has a 33.7% rate of foster child instability. The national average is 14.9%.
“We urge all people of good will to contact your legislators with the hope of cleaning up this constant mess with DCS,” he concluded.
Middle Tennessee Vice President of the NAACP, Elder Jimmy Garland, relayed some personal and national history when speaking on the case.
“I stand here as a Black man who grew up in the ‘60s, [who] understands how hard it was for us to be able to travel from place to place, making sure that we left in daylight and got where we wanted to land in daylight” Garland said. “Why? Because there was no food; we couldn’t stop to eat at a restaurant. There was no shelter; we couldn’t stay at a hotel. And if the police would stop us, we would be afraid for our lives. Today we have here in Manchester, a Black family traveling through Tennessee from Georgia to funeralize a relative. They were stopped, accosted, arrested and the kids were taken from their mother. The question that I have is: no matter why they stopped them, what happened is, we have in our midst a man driving while Black in the state of Tennessee.”
Garland asked, as the vice president of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the NAACP, to “expeditiously bring this case to trial’” and for the judge to dismiss all charges.