SILVER SPRING – The mother of two Montgomery County children who said police “coerced” her children into the back of a patrol car three blocks away from their house simply for walking home this past Sunday, is, along with her attorneys, now describing the officers’ actions as an “unlawful seizure” they plan to fight in court.
According Danielle Meitiv, police “detained (her children) in a police car for almost three hours” after they misled the children to believe they would be driven home – all this unbeknownst to their parents.
Meitiv’s children, Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, are the “free-range kids” who spurred a nationwide debate on how closely children should be monitored when they were picked up by police in December for playing alone at a park.
Including the three hours the Meitiv children spent in police custody and the roughly two and a half hours they spent at the Montgomery County Crisis Center where the police dropped them off, the Meitiv children spent almost six hours without access to food and with limited access to a bathroom, according to Meitiv’s public Facebook page.
“The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland (Child Protective Services) and Montgomery County Police,” said Matthew Dowd, an attorney with the Wiley Rein law firm who is representing the Meitivs pro-bono. “We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods.”
But the police dispute the mother’s claim and have a different account of what happened.
According to a police news release from late Monday afternoon, the police only tried to protect the children.
After responding to a call to check on the welfare of the children, the report reads “the officer observed a homeless subject who he was familiar with eyeing the children” and the homeless “subject” remained in the area for the duration of the time the officer stayed with the children. In the 911 call from Sunday released by the Montgomery County Police, an unidentified man walking his dog called because the children walked unsupervised and followed them while on the line with the dispatcher until a police officer arrived.
Both the Meitivs’ account of events and the police report agree on three things: police did not notify the parents that their children were in police custody for at least two hours, the children went without food while in custody and the children lacked access to a bathroom while in custody.
According to the police report, the officer who made contact with the children contacted Child Protective Services (CPS) at 5:16 p.m. per established protocol, which dictates police are mandated to contact representatives at CPS in any case that may involve possible child abuse or neglect.
After the officer had contacted CPS multiple times and CPS officials told him at 6:41 p.m. “a decision was still forthcoming from within CPS,” CPS finally decided at 7:18 p.m. to transport the children to CPS. At that time the officer was “advised that CPS would notify the parents.”
According to the report, the officer started to give his “personal lunch” to the children after they told the officer they felt hungry, but stopped when Rafi told the officer he and his sister had food allergies for worry that the “food item might cause an adverse reaction.”
The information provided in the police report does not state an exact time that “one of the children asked to use the bathroom” but does say one of the children asked before arriving at CPS and “after an approximate 20-minute ride to CPS” officials made a bathroom available to them.
County Council President George Leventhal said it is the responsibility of CPS to communicate with parents and, to his understanding, all involved followed the required protocols in this instance.
As to the guidelines on how long CPS can wait before notifying parents their children are in custody, Paula Tolson, interim director of communications for Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, said she still awaiting that answer from her staff.
Tolson said following the December incident CPS found the Meitivs responsible for unsubstantiated neglect, meaning the agency did not feel enough evidence existed in either direction to indicate a definitive case of child neglect.
Although the finding does not come with any automatic consequences, it remains in the family’s file for five years before it is expunged.
The recent event has only sparked more conversation about the Meitiv family, both positive and negative, spurring Meitiv to make posts on both her Twitter and Facebook.
Her twitter post reads “I respect different opinions. However I will delete comments and ban people when they use profanity. Play nice.”
Tuesday Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) shared a negative opinion on the Meitiv family on his Facebook that said there was something “really off” about them and that the children “may be in danger.”
The post, which Riemer prefaced as a “comment from a friend” said some in the Meitivs’ neighborhood have been “worrying for years about the way this family lets those kids wander around the urban environment alone” and that it has been happening since the children were much younger.