New Jersey Couple Who Had Baby Taken From Them During Traffic Voices Concern About Lawyer Who Took On Their Case
Police allegedly drew their guns during the stop, hit the father and handed the baby to social services.
March 26, 2021 at 12:36 am
Raymond Sykes and Kaila Boulware, a New Jersey couple who lost custody of their baby after they were arrested during a traffic stop last year, are now raising concerns about the lawyer who was hired to help the family as they sought justice.
The couple’s series of legal hurdles started on Dec. 3 when they were driving with their nine-month-old baby, Truth, in North Carolina, as Blavity previously reported. That’s when police pulled over the parents, saying the vehicle had an unregistered plate and the car was “being driven in a manner, place and time that was suspicious.”
“An odor of marijuana was detected coming from the vehicle and the occupants were asked to exit the van so a search could be performed, which they refused,” the sheriff’s department stated. “When deputies were attempting to remove Sykes from the vehicle, he assaulted a deputy by hitting him with his fist, which caused his arrest. A search of the vehicle was conducted, which revealed marijuana and drug paraphernalia.”
According to the parents’ account, the officers drew their guns during the stop, hit Sykes and handed the baby to social services after arresting the pair. In addition, Sykes and Boulware said they were accused of not having food or water in the car.
Following the incident, the couple hired attorney Jason Keith, who helped them bring back their child after a three-week battle in court. During the process, however, the family said their relationship with the North Carolina lawyer turned sour.
“Jason told us that in order for him to represent us in court the following day, he would need a retainer of $4,500. He then stated he would represent us in both the DSS matter and the criminal matter for a total of $12,000,” the clients told Blavity. “Despite our many requests, Jason Keith refused to send a written agreement outlining what his services would entail. He refused to send receipts for our payments. He refused to send us any paperwork regarding our case. He refused to show our evidence to the courts which clearly disproved DSS’ fraudulent petition that was put forth against us.”
Keith eventually responded to the constant requests for a written agreement, according to the family, telling them that he would charge $400 per hour.
“He continued by stating he would need more money to represent us, stressing that our case would be a ‘long and expensive process,’” they said. “Just a few days ago, he sent an itemized list of the ‘work’ he performed which listed false timings for consultations and court proceedings.”
The dispute continued when the parents raised concerns about their privacy, saying Keith posted their photo on his Instagram without their permission.
“Jason Keith even went as far as to sneak photographs of my family in court and proceeded to use the photo to boast about his involvement in our highly publicized case,” said Boulware, who shared a screenshot of the Instagram post with Blavity. “Unbeknownst to us, he took this photo of us in court awaiting the judge's decision.”
According to the post, which came from an Instagram user named keithlawyer, the family's connection with the attorney was made possible with the help of Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Action Network (NAN) and attorney Ben Crump.
“The @real_sharpton called Rev. DeVes Toon (the National Field Director for National Action Network), who called @attorneycrump who called me and told me to help this family,” the post states. “We won and we reunited a family torn apart by a Montgomery County Sheriff deputy during a traffic stop.”
Neither Crump nor Rev. Toon responded to Blavity’s request for an interview. However, Boulware confirmed the details of how the family found Keith.
“We relied on NAN and believed that the recommendation of Ben Crump was one we could trust,” she said.
As they became increasingly concerned about the lawyer, the family looked into his background. That’s when they found a reprimand which was brought against Keith by the North Carolina State Bar in 2019.
“After we paid Jason Keith a total of $12,000, we were horrified to discover articles, reprimands from the North Carolina State Bar, and transcripts from his federal court hearing echoing the same mishandlings that my family suffered through,” Boulware said.
According to the reprimand, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles issued a 17-page statement to Keith in 2019, concluding that he showed “a lack of diligence” when he represented four defendants in the Middle District of North Carolina.
“You demonstrated a lack of familiarity with the law, you provided inappropriate advice to the client(s) such that the client(s) risked receiving increased jail time and you did not keep your client(s) reasonably informed about their cases,” the grievance committee stated in the reprimand.
The couple, who has now filed a fee dispute complaint with the North Carolina State Bar, also expressed their concern to the NAN.
“They were very apologetic about our grievances and they tried to help us in the process of communicating with him,” Boulware said. “They told me that they don’t have any affiliations with him. When they heard that we needed an attorney, they called Ben Crump and he gave Jason as a referral.”
Keith didn’t respond to Blavity’s request for an interview. However, he spoke to Patch in February.
"I have over 30 hours logged and the courthouse was two hours away," he told the publication. "The client paid me. They got their kid back."
According to the couple, who were deemed homeless by social services because they didn't live in North Carolina, Keith never presented evidence to prove that the family has a permanent residence in New Jersey.
“Not at all, despite the immense amount we provided him,” the New Jersey residents said. “He did, however, stress that this would be a long and expensive process.”
As Blavity previously reported, the judge ordered the child to be released to Sykes' mother while their custody case was transferred to New Jersey. But the family said they were surprised by the decision because Keith never explained the agreement with social services.
“Keith never communicated that decision with us. We were also confused because we felt Truth should have been released directly to us,” Boulware said. “He went in the back with the court officials, came out, and whispered ‘they are going to dismiss it.’ Unbeknownst to us, it was not immediately dismissed, rather transferred to New Jersey for further investigation. New Jersey closed the case once their investigation came back clear.”
In a time where the country is seeing scores of high-profile police brutality cases, such as the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Sykes and Boulware said Keith was using them to boost his own resume.
"During a vulnerable time where race relations have boiled over in our nation, attorney Jason Keith chose to prey on a family that had been maliciously attacked by the police and devastated by a system designed in theory to protect all, but in practice maligns people of color,” the family said. “Keith has repeatedly used social media to advance his name because of the attention our case has captured and he will continue to disenfranchise unsuspecting people, families, and children who have no choice but to trust the legal advice of their attorney.”
The parents said they are now facing “extreme financial headaches and legal nightmare caused by Keith’s actions in the middle of a pandemic," on the heels of fighting for their son.
“How do I explain to my infant son, Truth, that the truth in essence does not matter? That Truth lives in a country where he can be kidnapped under the guise of law, and his father can be beaten because his skin color is viewed as an automatic ‘threat,’” Boulware said. “That an unethical attorney can hide behind a system that shields him even though his actions (or failures to act) can have catastrophic repercussions to our family, all while armed gunman can attack our nation and there remains debate as to whether charges should even be filed?”
While they're still seeking repercussions against their former attorney, the couple said their main goal is to fight for families who may find themselves in a similar situation.
“If we do not speak up, Jason and others like him will continue to do this,” they said. “If there is no repercussion he will repeat this pattern. The bar has not protected us, the police have not protected us, child services did not protect our son and the agency we relied on to help us, instead put us in the hands of a known predator.”
Sykes and Boulware, who describe themselves as scriptural scholars and followers of the 10 commandments, are also relying on their faith as they move forward.
“Fortunately we know and believe that Our Heavenly Father, Yoheweh, still protects us and that He will take care of all of these things,” Boulware said.
As for Truth, his parents want him to grow up knowing that he matters.
“We have been in a battle since early December, but I refuse to tell Truth that he does not matter because he matters in every sense of the word," the baby's mother said. "I want him to know that when it is all said and done, not only did his parents fight zealously for him, but by his name we were vindicated.”
The parents, who were traveling to Florida from New Jersey when they were stopped in Montgomery County, North Carolina, continued to rely on faith during the confrontation with police.
“No matter how we spoke to these officers, no matter how professional we were, there was a desire to escalate the situation coming from them,” Sykes said. “They didn’t like hearing questions. Someone just threw open my door and threw me out of the vehicle. I went from being a scholar, an advocate, anything that I might consider myself professionally, to being the enemy. As he led me to the front of his car and pulled his gun out, and my back is turned to him, I know that I can’t ask this officer anything. All I can do at that moment is pray. That’s what I did.”
The father said it was prayer that saved his life.
“Something about the power of our creator is the reason why they put away their gun and struck me instead,” he said. “I’m grateful that I’m still here. The moment that he pulled me out of the car, I felt that my life was about to end. That was just the beginning of our experience. There were a lot of psychological things they did, a lot of things that they tried to say. They made rape jokes, they did anything they can do to try to provoke myself and my wife. I just knew I needed to be level headed and continue to pray.”
Sykes said the nightmare continued when he went to social services after he was released hours later.
“I go to see my son who has been snatched from me and they were treating me like I was an animal,” he said. “They didn’t want me to see my son. They didn’t want me to see my wife, they tried to keep us in separate rooms, they tried to tell my wife and her family that I was a dangerous man. They created stories about me that didn’t even exist.”
When they later hired Keith, the family felt that they had found the perfect partner, a Black attorney who describes himself as a Black Lives Matter organizer, an entrepreneur and a mentor.
“We chose an attorney that’s like us, like our people because we want to do business with our people,” Sykes said. “We didn’t get any professionalism. I don’t want that to be our story about doing business with our people. I want our story to be that we’re all growing together.”