NASHVILLE, TN  ­– Fourth Circuit Court Judge Phil Smith and Department of Child Services attorney Shay Jolly are about to take away an African American baby from his family and give him to a white foster family in Old Hickory. 

If they succeed, the State of Tennessee will get at least $5,000 from the federal government—a bonus every state gets when someone adopts a neglected or abused child and they are not related by blood. The adoption incentive can be as high as $10,000/child. But if a child is placed with a relative the state gets no bonus. 

Skyler Mitchell is 16 months old. In September 2020, DCS took Skyler from his mother Loren Mitchell. The 3-month old baby was placed into foster care with Adron Wayne Ray III and his wife, Abigail Bargatze Ray. They have two kids of their own.

Adron Ray and his wife Abigail are Skyler’s foster parents who are trying to adopt him and terminate Loren Mitchell’s parental rights.

Under DCS policy foster parents are required to “work with the birth parents” and are prohibited from seeking a termination of parental rights and adoption on their own.  It’s in their contract.

Mitchell is mentally disabled and cannot care for Skyler. Her older son, Michael, 6, lives with his Aunt Angela Moyo and his paternal grandmother, Angela Moyo Sr. They want to raise Skyler; they are qualified, and under the rules governing placement of abandoned or neglected children, Skyler’s relatives have top priority to become his caretakers. A relative placement is when kids leave DCS custody to live with family members. 

On September 18, 2020 Moyo Jr.appeared in Davidson County Juvenile Court to discuss Skyler’s placement for the first time. “I told them all that Skyler is loved, he is wanted and that I was doing everything possible in order to get him,” Moyo said.

Angela Moyo Jr. was denied custody of Skyler Mitchell although she is caretaker to his half-brother Michael. 

That meant getting a new apartment ready for both boys and herself. Loren was on board with that plan and so was DCS, supposedly. On February 10, 2021 Moyo Jr. emailed caseworker Reba Terry to tell her she found a home for the boys. Moyo Jr. said she emailed, called, and texted the caseworker to schedule a home inspection. 

“Reba Terry is the DCS social worker who should have expedited the relative placement,” said Connie Reguli. She is Moyo’s attorney. Terry dragged her feet for six weeks. 

There was plenty DCS should have been doing to reunify the family. According to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Child and Family Service Plan, DCS supports relatives “who take on the responsibility of raising related children when birth parents are unable to do so”. 

“Kinship placements and the kinship resource home approval process will continue to go through modifications to improve the timeliness to approval and to provide financial assistance within a shorter period of time. There is a drive to increase the number of Kin/Relative placements within each region and statewide,” reads part of the service plan. In Skyler’s case, not only did DCS fail to do that but it also failed to deliver the following services it is required to offer children under the age of five:

  1. A series of case reviews to target cases for needed work toward permanency and to ensure length of stay is reduced. Permanency Reviews are conducted on all cases where children have been in custody over 6 months.
  2. A special 9 Month Legal Review to ensure casework activities are on track toward reunification or shifting gears toward alternate permanency arrangements, including termination of parental rights (TPR). 
  3. DCS strives to ensure kinship placements for all children in DCS custody. Often times, relatives are better equipped to care for younger children as their needs are different from older children.

On March 23, the fosters, DCS caseworker Terry and her supervisor Tonya Russell, Angela Moyo Jr. , and Loren Mitchell (Skylar’s birth mother) held a progress meeting by phone about what remained to be done before Angela could become Skyler’s guardian. Moyo Jr.repeated her desire to be Skyler’s caretaker and she asked why DCS hadn’t done a home inspection yet.  

DCS caseworker Reba Terry was assigned to the Mitchell case. She was supposed to be helping baby Skyler reunite with his family but instead she secretly helped the foster parents keep the boy. 
 

Caseworker Reba Terry did the home inspection the next day and it was fine. All of the conditions of the permanency plan had been met and there only remained fingerprinting and signing some paperwork before Skyler would start a new life with his extended family. 

On April 8, 2021 Terry met Angela for her to sign some final paperwork. Both birth mother Loren and Auntie Angela Moyo Jr. told the Tribune they were expectant and thrilled they would no longer have to plan visits with Skyler because he would soon be living with Angela. 

According to Moyo Jr., immediately after Terry left with the signed permanency plan paperwork on April 8, she called the Rays (fosters) and told them that Moyo Jr. was about to take custody of Skyler. 

The lawyer representing the Rays is attorney Wende Jand Rutherford. On April 9, 2021 Rutherford filed for an ex parte restraining order to keep DCS from awarding Moyo Jr. custody of Skyler. Smith signed the order. The Rays also filed a petition to terminate Loren’s parental rights, for adoption, and another ex parte restraining order. 

On April 14, DCS held a WEBEX meeting with the Rays, Moto Jr., Skyler’s mom, Loren Mitchell , Reba Terry, and DCS attorney Shay Jolly. It was a pivotal moment in the case. Loren reported she had completed her domestic violence class, her parenting class, her parenting assessment, and said she was working on housing.

Moto Jr. said that everyone on the call acted like everything was going along like it should and DCS was still looking to place Skyler with her. 

“I had been telling them and been in constant communication with them and the foster parents and everybody agreed at that point—Angela is going to get the baby.

Loren always said ‘I want my sister to have my baby’. I always said I want Skyler.  DCS, everybody was like ‘ok, this is what we’re working towards’. After the call I remember feeling like ‘ok, we are still on track. We just need to get over these few hurdles and we could get Skyler back’,” said Moyo Jr.

But that wasn’t going to happen. The foster parents knew they blocked the relative placement by filing their petition the week before but said nothing about it. Angela said that neither they nor DCS mentioned it during the call. It came as a terrible shock a few days later when Loren was served with papers.

Skler with his mother, Loren Mitchell.

DCS could have placed Skyler with Angela Moto Jr. if they acted quickly and they should have but they didn’t. Instead they were deceitful, as were the foster parents. DCS would soon betray not only Sklyer’s family but also its own first principle of reuniting families. 

Moto Jr. and Loren both told the Tribune that DCS betrayed their trust, lied to them, and deliberately deceived them. The family placement did not happened and they are really angry about it.

On May 18, 2021 DCS attorney Shay Jolly entered into an Agreed Order with the foster parents that DCS would not remove Skyler from their home. So, in a little more than a month, DCS abandoned its relative placement goal in Juvenile Court and joined the fosters in the 4th Circuit Court as a co-petitioner to terminate Loren’s parental rights—something that would not be necessary if Aunt Angela Moyo was given guardianship of Skyler. 

It is not clear exactly when or who decided to abruptly change Skyler’s permanency plan but caseworker Reba Terry played a part as did DCS lawyer Shay Jolly. 

Loren Mitchell did not enter the May 18 agreed order. In July 2021, three months later, she still had no attorney and there was no Guardian ad Litem for Skyler, both of which are required by state law. “He (Judge Smith) never should have signed that restraining order,” Reguli said.

Connie Reguli is a family law attorney representing Angela Moyo Jr.

Under a 2016 change in law TCA 36-1-116 (f) the filing of an adoption and termination petition cuts off all of the Juvenile Court’s reunification proceedings. A third party can intervene in an adoption but not a termination proceeding. 

The Juvenile Court proceedings would have allowed Loren to remain a parent and Angela Mayo Jr. protective guardian. But the foster parents’ petitions set events in motion to turn Loren into a stranger to her son and end her relationship with him forever. 

When DCS switched sides and signed the agreed order, DCS bifurcated the termination and adoption so that Moyo Jr. could not intervene. 

“We were kicked out of the case,” Reguli said. 

Three months after the fosters filed their petition, Judge Smith had still not assigned Loren an attorney and Skyler still had no Guardian ad Litem. 

Loren knows she can’t raise Skyler and wants him to go to his aunt. Imagine her sitting in a courtroom where she has not been consulted and cannot follow what is happening, has no lawyer to plead her case, and she’s up against a whole battery of lawyers, court clerks, and adversaries, including the judge, all of whom talk faster and think quicker than she does. She is alone without family advocates able to come to her defense.

“What they have done is not right. It’s not fair,” Mitchell pleaded to the court.  “We done all the things we were supposed to do as far as Skyler goes. And I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair. We’ve done all the things we were supposed to do. It’s not fair,” she said.

Phillip Smith is 4th Circuit Court Judge in Davidson County. Smith signed a restraining order to prevent baby Skyler from being placed with Angela Moyo. Under state law DCS has sole authority over foster child placements. Moyo has custody of Loren Mitchell’s older son Michael who is six years old. 
 

“I am going to allow Ms. Stark to file a brief on Ms. Mitchell’s behalf,” Smith said. That’s mighty big of him but because the legal judo manipulated the court system and removed the family from the case, it’s pretty certain Loren Mitchell will lose her parental rights and the fosters will get to keep Skyler.

“This was in July and this thing started in April. DCS should have immediately terminated the fosters’ contract and placed Skyler with his Aunt Angela. And as soon as the petition was filed the court should have appointed Loren an attorney and should have appointed a Guardian ad Litem before it did anything,” Reguli said. 

To be continued…..

Loren used to talk with Skyler on the phone every day. Now that Adron and Abigail Ray are in the process of terminating Loren Mitchell’s parental rights, she can only talk to him twice a week.

Caseworker Reba Terry cut back Mitchell’s weekly visits with Skyler to twice a month for two hours. “That really stinks,” Mitchell told the Tribune. 

This story was update on November 20, 2021.

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26 Comments

  1. This is a very disturbing situation. How they are treating these women. When clearly there’s a family member willing to take care of this baby. They are trying to shout out the biological mother because she disable. This whole situation is against the law. And all behind should be arrested. This is against there constitutional rights. Keep these women in our prayers justice shall prevail

    1. Please be careful of what you read. These are not facts to story. You only have read one side to this story. The person writing this story did not do complete research. Its DCS you cant pay for a baby…think about it.

  2. This article is just a glimpse of the corruption of the human trafficking going on at DCS to the highest bidder. No one would have believed that human beings were still sold on auction blocks in 2021 in the United States of America. This is shameful and a blight on the great state of Tennessee. Thank you for sharing this story as so many families are suffering this in silence. Many families will lose children that they love and desperately want because they don’t have the funds to fight a system that’s geared towards stealing babies from the poor and placing them into stronger financial settings. This is shameful, and the saddest part is taxpayers are paying for this travesty!

    1. This is killing me my Grandsons 14 and 4 have been gone 9 mos. I had legal custody long story but they have a loving caring happy home. The nbor got mad kept calling making false report. Understaffed and Not caring they did no researching just took. Only parent they know is my daughter she’s In program doing very good and graduates in February. She has to have house car and gets a teen and a toddler. She can’t come home with them until she can get a good start with support. She’s never raised a child she’s not been able to make her own life. They rather set her up for failure life is hard you need support from any family friends you have. Alabama well educated Dhr and court neglect kids rights to be involved with blood so they can’t tell what’s happening. I got 2 bills the oldest was at a homeless house when 1st took. Had two E.R visits I got ambulance bills. Dhr couldn’t believe he would be there in their custody was the reply I got! I sure the hell wouldn’t put him there. This is a disgrace to human rights. We’ve paid lawyers got court appointed that acts like works for Dhr. No lawyer will guarantee you to win and get your babies back hard beat crooked state. I’ve wrote the Governor, Head of Dhr in Montgomery they all say it’s not right but not 1 thing has been done. They wonder why ppl go crazy

  3. How can I help uplift this story here in Texas. I’m a social worker and this should’ve never happened.

    1. Elyce Harris since you are social worker in Texas help find this baby a lawyer that will do right by them, this is wrong and every one of them should be fired, praying

  4. So there you have it…. the state of Tennessee can sell your babies and get away with it..If you don’t have the right clout you are invisible and called a bad parent.Will somebody help the little people who can’t afford to stop their child from being sold?please this is so wrong in so many ways….ATTORNEYS did yall not go to law school to help people even those who can’t afford you at times. Have a heart..yes there are children that need to be removed but then there are children who don’t need to be removed just people with a vengeance against somebody they have a problem with so why not call dcs? Maybe they should start checking some of their own case workers.Lord knows they have plenty of liars among them trying to steal someone else baby for another.

  5. I cannot believe what I just read. This reminds me of the babies being stolen from poor Tennessee families and sold to wealthy families out west in the 1940’s by Social Worker, Georgia Tann and Judge Camille Kelley. This is the very reason there are policies and procedures in place; to prevent such things as this from happening to Tennessee families. Where are TN Commission on Children and Youth Ombudsmen, family advocates, etc. If this adoption is allowed to happen, then God help us all. “What you do to the least of these my brethren; you do unto me”.

  6. Happens in North Alabama too much! I’m a Grandparent who raised 15 and 4 yr old now been separated no contact going on 9 mos. Nobody understands the neglect of the involvement with the ones they were with daily will haunt us all the rest of our lives. My daughter is doing a great job with a program. It’s overwhelming having toget a home car and a teen and toddler fresh out of graduation. Plus a 90 day safety plan so us Grandparents don’t get to be 8j in Thier lives until Dhr is out or they get took away!? Any MOMA/Gmoma that has to go through this and especially children will never be the same. It doesn’t matter what color they are in it for the money. Makes me physically sick

  7. This is no surprise for us. My wife and I went through the same thing in 2013-2016. We spent over $100,000 to have our children back into our homes. DCS and the State will destroy a family and kill pour children for a dollar. It is very sad to see our black families be destroyed and the State deceive and lie to families daily.
    We also hired a Lawyer who worked against us, is was reported and nothing done about, not did it change anything.
    This is all about money and if you have a good job, DCS and the State of Tennessee are coming after you because there is money. It’s not about the best interest of the child/children, it is all about the pockets. They don’t care about the children, parents, sa long or anyone else the hurt.

    Ty his DCS and State thing are about the “root of all evil” we call MONEY.

    Please, feel free to contact me.

  8. I pray they keep fighting. The state/DCS/Courts are all about money. Every referral called in true or not is $$$$! It is political and not the workers who are being used as the scapegoats. Sad but True..FACTS!!!

  9. Angela and her mother are not relatives of the baby in question. This article is full of half truths and lies.

    1. There is much more to a family than blood! It was my face near his mother’s tummy talking to him before he came into the world! Now you have the audacity to tell me that this is not my grandchild? Since you mention that these are lies and half-truths; please share with the world the portions that are not accurate!

  10. Let me tell you a little bit about DCF.
    I am the legal Gaurdian of my great nephew. The only reason his parents didn’t get him back is. Because my lawyer asked for a drug test the day before court and they failed it. DCS still wanted him to go to them. But I had a good judge in Marshal county. But DCS has blocked me at every turn on getting help for this child. I was sale to get WIC until he was a yr old, but had to do the yearly reup during the pandemic. They wouldn’t do a zoom meeting with me. I had to go to the office which was closed, same with food stamps. Last year when I finally got him on SSI he is getting what Family’s first would have given because DCF said the parents are paying child support which they are behind $5,500 So they don’t help relatives at all

  11. Thank you all for your care and support. Our family is absolutely devastated over this situation. My nephew is missing his brother every day and night and it’s utterly heartbreaking. It’s my goal to raise these two brothers together under the same roof with love and allow them to develop the bond that two brothers should share. Each day without Skyler is a fraction of what it could/should be, and what these people are trying to do to our family is just not right. We go on with our lives but we are incomplete without having him with us. If you’d like to help please pray with us and write to Governor Bill Lee at bill.lee@tn.gov feel free to include this article as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this story. We pray that we get justice soon.

  12. Did anyone think to look at the Aunt? If the Aunt knew of the baby and the mothers issues, why didn’t she step in? Additionally, it seems that DCS placed the child in proper care because the Aunt also did not have it. Sounds to me like some people are upset because a white family is willing to raise black kids. The government wants to fund the state for placing children who are in bad situations that are out of the child’s control. Not solely due to the system being broken. The system works the media exploits it for views in situations in which they think can bring them profit. Also what is it the Aunt does seems like she wants a check times 2 for (mentally-ill) mother and ( abused) child. Its obviously stated that the mother just completed DV classes. So where are those DV ladies/men at who want to ensure survivors get away from their attackers. The child seems like a survivor to me put into good hands.

    1. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This is the baby’s grandmother Big Angela, and the baby was in DCS custody before the family was aware! It took a simple phone call to remove my grandbaby!
      As for my daughter, she has no children of her own, and was not looking to raise any! However she has selfishly stepped in and sacrificed a great deal financially to keep these brothers together. As a matter of fact she is the only one in this picture who is trying to give the brothers a home together! Since the family has two businesses, this is far from about money, this is an endeavor of love!!!
      May I ask, how much money would you be willing to put your flesh and blood on the auction block for? My daughter was in court September 2020 to let DCS know that she wanted my grandson! They told the family what we needed to do to get my grandson, we complied with everything! Now here we are over a year later and my grandson is still with strangers! I am sorry that you think this is about sensationalism, but for us it is about the quality of a little boy’s life and keeping two brothers together

  13. This is God awful and the Governor Lee’s office needs to step in and investigate this and give this baby to his family.

  14. Skyler’s blood relatives have gone above and beyond keep him in his family. His family that wants and loves him. There is no way Skylar should be placed with any other family.

  15. This story breaks my heart, but goes to show the corruption in all levels of our government.
    All we have to do is “follow the money” in many situations – the wealthy (or those who have access to large sums of money) seem to have power over regular (often poor) folks. AND all levels of government are grasping for every dollar they can get their hands on. Look at our increasing taxes and living expenses!
    If money were not involved in this situation, I believe Skyler would already be in his rightful family home with the Moyos.
    A willing, responsible, proven relative is ‘almost’ ALWAYS the best place for a family’s children. Angela has proven over and over that she is ready and capable of raising both boys.
    DCS – please give the Moyos their child!

  16. In response to the ill informed comment made by Chad Yahoo, I Angela (the Aunt), would like to say that getting Skyler has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with getting a check from anyone, it never did. I told DCS to keep their money, I don’t want or need their support. All I want is my nephew, safe and sound in my custody. On April 8, 2021, after a background check, fingerprint check, calling of all my references, two home visits and much delay on their part, DCS was to have Skyler expedited into my care. However when the fosters were made aware, they filed a restraining order against DCS, breaking their contact and barring Skyler from being places where he rightfully belongs. It didn’t even seem legal. DCS and fosters knew from the very beginning that I was getting Skyler but once it became a reality they all did a complete 180. To this day, thought I’ve asked countlessly, they have not given me the reason for their abrupt change in reasoning. And to Dianne, this article speaks the truth. Skyler is my family regardless of what anyone has to say on the situation. I have his brother in my care and the two of them deserve to be together. I am considered fictive kin and I have much more claim to him than two deceitful strangers. I will never let my nephew be raised by underhanded such people.

  17. We are not upset that a white family is willing to raise a black child. We are upset because we are his family, we want to raise him but DCS is now blocking us at every turn. If the fosters were a black family, red family, yellow family, biracial family or other we would have the same issue. That issue being that Skyler has family that is ready, willing ,wanting, and able to raise him, however DCS hasn’t yet places him in our care.

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