Sevyn Jenkins came into this world with 18 fractured ribs and a broken collarbone. Sevyn’s mother, Shakia Richardson, is active duty military. When her contractions started on December 24, 2019, Richardson’s partner, Trevon Jenkins, took her to Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell. Sevyn is their first child.
What happened afterwards became a waking nightmare that is still going on two years later. Richardson’s primary care physician was off duty on Christmas. Midwife Tiffany Williams delivered the baby.
Williams was sued for malpractice in 2014. The plaintiff, Amy Herbst, was a successful Nashville opera singer, whose performing career was ended by the botched episiotomy of her first child. Herbst and her husband, Staff Sgt. James Herbst, filed a $2.5 million lawsuit in Cincinnati federal court against the government and Williams.
Herbst claimed the procedure was carried out without her consent and damaged her digestive and reproductive systems. It also ruined the professional mezzo-soprano’s lucrative singing career and she suffers intense pain during sex, according the New York Daily News.
Five years later, Willliams was still employed by the Army as a contract midwife at Fort Campbell.
Richardson had a long painful delivery. She was in active labor for nine hours. She was given an epidural at 2:06 pm and Pitocin to induce delivery at 7:28 pm. At 9:23 pm, she was dilated 9cm. Richardson told the Tribune that she pushed for an hour.
“I remember feeling her head in my vagina for some time as if she was paused or stuck,” Richardson said.
“She should have had a Caesarian,” said BeKura Shabazz, Richardson’s mother.
Narrow birth canals run in the family. She had the procedure twice with two of her four children. And Shabazz herself was delivered by Caesarian section.
“We have to move this along because the baby is losing oxygen,” Richardson remembers a male voice telling the midwife. It was likely the attending physician, Dr. David Paul Tillman.
Baby Sevyn presented “Sunnyside up” and was stuck in the birth canal so Williams performed an episiotomy; it didn’t work.
The baby was still stuck in the birth canal. Richardson said that a few minutes passed before Williams cut her again. Finally the baby came out. Williams reported it was a normal delivery.
However, hospital records show Dr. Thomas Hamilton attended the delivery because Sevyn’s heart monitor showed non-reassuring fetal heart tracing or NRFHT. It means her heartbeat was irregular because she was not getting enough oxygen. Sevyn was getting squeezed, indeed, she was slowly suffocating in her Mom’s birth canal. That fits Richardson’s account that the baby seemed stuck and that both Mom and daughter had a difficult birth.
Two months later, Sevyn got a vaccine and developed a fever, so Mom brought her to the base hospital. They did an X-ray, found several healing rib fractures and sent the baby to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
Doctors at Blanchfield notified Department of Children’s Services (DCS) that they were transferring the baby to Vanderbilt on February 26.
“When the social worker by the name of Latasha Williams showed up she had the investigative papers already filled out that the baby was injured through domestic violence. Medical records hadn’t been released yet or nothing,” Shabazz said.
That’s when the grandmother started to question what was going on. DCS was already in the process of wrongfully removing the baby from the parents. This happens frequently all over the United States.
Never in Doubt, Frequently Wrong
“I don’t know that anyone has put a number on wrongful removals,” said Richard Wexler, Executive Director, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. He estimates 75%-90% of all children taken into state custody shouldn’t be there.
“Even in more complex cases, there almost always are safe proven alternatives to foster care,” Wexler said. He said most children could have remained safely in their own homes had the right kinds of help been provided to the families.
Wexler said poor children are taken and placed in foster homes far more often than children from middle class or upper class families. Investigators confuse poverty with neglect. Wexler noted a bitter irony: foster parents get funds for the foster child that they don’t need nearly as much as the birth parents who get nothing.
According to DCS 2019 budget figures, DCS family support services received $49.4 million, or about 5% of its total budget of $901 million. Seventy-three percent of the budget, $663 million, went to family management and custody services.
When poor parents lose their children, they are demonized, often criminalized—and certainly overwhelmed by–– a child welfare system that includes investigators, hospitals, lawyers, police, judges, social workers, counselors, therapists, educators, and other specialists.
They are all brought into a child welfare case with the primary goal of reunifying kids with their birth families. In reality, these “do-gooders” are experienced as a phalanx of unwanted meddlers ––all of whom must be endured and obeyed––if poor parents are ever to get their kids back.
All too often they never do. In Sevyn’s case, DCS moved against Mom and Dad as soon as they heard the baby had been transferred to Vanderbilt. DCS and Vanderbilt have a cozy relationship. DCS paid Vanderbilt $3.3 million for medical services in 2020.
Most cases DCS investigates arrive via the Child Abuse Hotline. But the army hospital staff notified DCS in this case. So the caseworker, Latasha Williams, jumped in her car and met the parents at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital on a Friday afternoon, February 26, 2020. She threatened them.
“She told us if we didn’t have anyone to partake a safety placement by the time she got off work, Sevyn would go in the system. it was a Friday. I’ll never forget it because it was already 2 or something. She told us if we didn’t have someone to fill those shoes then Sevyn was going into foster care.“
Williams wouldn’t allow Shabazz to go home with the baby as caretaker. The family scrambled to bring Sevyn’s great grandmother from Virginia who arrived by American Airlines just after midnight on February 27. Mom and Dad had to stay in a motel. All this cost money. DCS never reimbursed them.
The Protection Agreement Williams forced the parents to sign is how DCS first took control. They also use Permanency Plans and Protective Custody Orders from a judge to maintain it.
Sevyn’s parents were tricked by DCS on March 23, 2020. They went to the Clarksville DCS office allegedly for a Family Team Permanency Plan meeting. When they got there, the door was locked and a Clarksville policeman was stationed outside the door.
DCS took custody of the baby, then three months old, and she was given to a foster family until a May 4 court hearing. The decision to take the baby was made by Heather Jeffries, who heads Foster Care in the DCS Clarksville office. (See Cover up)
The Child Removal Network
DCS operates more like the mafia than a child services agency. They have relationships with hospitals, politicians, private providers, foster parents, TennCare, police, district attorneys, and judges. DCS officials don‘t hesitate to use those connections when they move to take a child into custody.
In order to do that with baby Sevyn they relied on medical records from Vanderbilt, a DCS report from caseworker Williams, and the February 26 protection agreement, which is like a forced confession because it admits guilt at the top of the form.
The presumption is that the parents must be guilty. The same is true of the DCS March 24th court petition to take custody for “neglect and severe abuse”—which Judge Tim Barnes granted. Sevyn had been taken into state custody the day before.
“It felt like they kidnapped her. I felt like we would never see her again. It was defeat, the worst feeling in the world,” Richardson told the Tribune.
Although Mom gave an eyewitness account of Sevyn’s difficult birth, the case came down to a medical opinion about whether Sevyn’s broken bones were accidental or inflicted.
This is how caseworker Latasha Williams reported her meeting with the parents on February 26. “No accidental mechanism of injury was provided to explain the patient’s injury,“ Williams wrote.
On page 4 of the custody petition order she wrote: “Shakia reported that she has no idea what happened to Sevyn.” Actually, that is not true.
“When the DCS caseworker came to the hospital she asked me what happened. And I explained that the only physical trauma Sevyn has ever been through was a difficult birth,” Richardson said.
The Tribune reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records, statements, and DCS reports in the case. One thing is very clear: DCS preemptively jumped to conclusions and set out to remove baby Sevyn before it even began investigating the case. And it did incredibly sloppy paperwork.
In the rush to judgment, DCS caseworker, Latasha Williams, wrote a non-custodial family permanency plan, an immediate protection agreement, and a court petition riddled with mistakes. Parents filed a list of 37 errors of fact and corrections with Judge Tim Barnes in Juvenile Court.
Among those errors were: Williams repeatedly misspelled Sevyn’s last name as Richardson when it is Jenkins. She wrote Sevyn’s birthday as 12/25/17; it was 12/25/19; she wrote Shakia’s last name was Jenkins; it is Richardson; she wrote Mom was “over due by 41 weeks and 6 days”; Mom correctly reported to Williams that she was 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant when Sevyn was born. That’s just the first page of errors and misstatements of fact. They go on for four more pages.
Dueling Medical Opinions
Dr. Heather Williams examined Sevyn on February 26 and found her in good health with no evidence of abuse. Except for a fever, all other tests came back negative.
However, two radiologists looked at the X-rays, and confirmed what the base hospital had found: broken ribs and collarbone. The collarbone was well-healed and several of the ribs, also. But some ribs were still healing. The X-rays found no other broken bones. And as several specialists noted, baby Sevyn was healthy with no visible signs of abuse.
Williams wrote in her report: “As was previously stated, and is further supported based on the birth records, these injuries would not be expected to be the result of birth trauma, especially as radiology has documented a concern that the fractures are in different stages of healing, indicating that the patient may have been harmed at different points in time.”
The operative word here is “may”. Sevyn may have been harmed at different points in time and she also might not have been because some ribs take more time to heal than others.
Williams claimed that Sevyn’s birth records from Blanchifield Hospital supported her opinion. Actually, they don’t. As noted above, although the midwife reported a normal delivery at the end, she had performed a double episiotomy and Dr. Hamilton attended the delivery because baby Sevyn was under stress for hours until she was actually born.
If Williams’ medical opinion had been left to stand Sevyn would almost certainly be in foster care today. Richardson went back to court to get permission from Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Ray Grimes for a second opinion. An orthopedic specialist in Chattanooga, Dr. Robert Quigley, examined Sevyn on 5/8/20.
“Rib fractures do not appear to be in a wide range of age of healing. Different fractures heal at different rates. I do not think this review of the skeletal survey means that these insures for sure occurred at different times. I think that it is possible that these injuries occurred ad the same time. However, I state again, there is no way of knowing for sure…..that the injuries occurred during birth trauma or from non-accidental trauma,” Quigley reported.
Quigley’s report was objective. The report from Vanderbilt by Dr. Williams shows confirmation bias. At least that’s how the judge saw things two weeks later.
“Vanderbilt has tunnel vision,” said Judge Grimes. He granted a petition to return the baby to the family home on May 4, 2020. But Dad had been ordered out of the home on March 1, 2020. He was not allowed to return until mid-November 2021. “So he’s been out of the house for over a year,” Richardson said.
The family is still under a DCS edict to have other family members in the home and they cannot travel out of state. The extended family lives in Virginia. Sevyn’s parents are in Tennessee because they were stationed at Fort Campbell.
“The case is still going on. My grandmother is still here. She is not allowed to go home. If she does go home, my sister comes to take her place,” Mom said.
Richardson’s family is being severely inconvenienced but they are lucky. They got Sevyn back after a stout defense against DCS’s allegation of physical abuse abetted by a Vanderbilt doctor who basically agreed with DCS that they broke their baby’s ribs and collarbone.
In police jargon, suspicious does not mean guilty. When DCS takes a baby it means the same thing. Absent any other evidence, and there was none, DCS should have dropped its persecution of the family at the May 4, 2020 court hearing.
“It sucks. It’s horrible but I’m blessed and I’m thankful. I know a lot of people, they don’t get to see their children. So I just try to be as compliant as I can and still remain reasonable because they have done some horrible things. Horrible things,“ Richardson said.
Almost two years later, DCS is still doing horrible things. On November 1, Sevyn’s parents went to a family team meeting at the Clarksville DCS office. “It was an extremely sour meeting,’ Richardson said.
They asked for permission to let Dad come home. DCS attorney Stephen Marsh said he wasn’t comfortable with that and told Mom he was going to get her out of the house, too.
”And lo and behold a few days later there were felony warrants on us for aggravated assault,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s mom, BeKura Shabazz, pursued the case with Clarksville PD. She spoke with Sgt. Sunisa Hamilton, a supervising detective.
Clarksville police would not comment publicly. A spokesperson said the case is still under investigation. The Montgomery County Sheriff warrants office confirmed they do not have any outstanding warrants on Sevyn’s Mom and Dad.
“Once we discovered there could be conflicting information we prevented that to go through,” said Robert Nash, Montgomery County District Attorney. Nash said the case is not scheduled to go before a grand jury. He won’t be prosecuting it.
“DCS ended up digging a bigger hole for themselves. Not only did they (DCS) look stupid but they lost their trust,” she said. The next court appearance is scheduled in May 2022, two years after DCS should have let it go. So far, the family has spent $20,000 fighting DCS.