The parents of two Maryland children who were taken into police custody after playing alone at a park will file a lawsuit, a lawyer for the family said Tuesday.
It's not clear who will be named in the suit, but the attorney confirmed to News4's Kristin Wright that a lawsuit will be filed "soon."
Matthew Dowd, an attorney with the Wiley Rein law firm, said in a release Tuesday that 10-year-old Rafi Meitiv and his 6-year-old sister, Dvora, were held in a police car for almost three hours, went more than six hours without being fed, and weren't returned to their parents until nearly midnight.
The suit stems from an incident Sunday, the second time police got involved with Danielle and Alexander Meitiv and their kids.
In the latest incident, a man called 911 to report two unaccompanied children at Ellsworth Park in Silver Spring around 5 p.m. Sunday. The man said he was walking his dog when the children asked to pet it. He said their clothes were dirty and they were walking around alone for about 20 minutes.
The parents have said they are part of the free-range kids movement, which aims to foster growing independence in children.
"The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police," Dowd said in a statement in part. "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."
The statement continued, "The Meitivs intend to fully vindicate their rights as parents and their children’s rights, and to prevent this from happening to their children again."
The first officer to the scene contacted his supervisors, then Child Protective Services (CPS) about 5:15 p.m. Police said the officer saw a homeless man "eyeing" the children.
The officer contacted another CPS employee about 6:10 p.m. for guidance, police said. At about 6:40 p.m., CPS told him they were still making a decision. The decision to transfer the children to CPS in Rockville was made about 7:20 p.m., according to police.
"I thought I was going to be taken away from my parents," 10-year-old Rafi Meitiv said.
He told News4's Megan McGrath that he didn't get to see his parents for hours.
"They kept saying you can see them in a little bit," Rafi recounted. "Finally, [at] 10:30 ... I could see them."
CPS confirmed it is investigating reports that the Meitivs' children were alone Sunday.
In a message posted on Facebook Sunday night, Danielle Meitiv said CPS made both her and her husband sign a "safety plan" in order to bring the children home. The entire ordeal, she said, left the family "exhausted and terrified."
"The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car, telling them they would drive them home. They kept the kids trapped there for three hours, without notifying us, before dropping them at the Crisis Center, and holding them there without dinner for another two and a half hours," the post reads. "We finally got home at 11 p.m. and the kids slept in our room because we were all exhausted and terrified."
The Meitivs said they feel targeted.
"They're healthy, they're well-behaved, well-fed, well-dressed, articulate, intelligent, confident. There's nothing in that list that suggests neglect," Danielle Meitiv said.
The family is now being represented pro bono by the Wiley Rein firm.
The family has said they're responsible parents who are teaching their children self-reliance and responsibility. They said the investigation infringed on their parental rights and invaded their privacy.
"I can't believe this has happened to the Meitiv family again," said Lenore Skenazy, founder of the free-range kids movement. "All they're trying to do is give their kids an old-fashioned childhood, let their kids play outside on their own for a little bit. Not even on their own. There's two kids."
CPS says the Meitivs are not being targeted, adding that the police are legally obligated to get involved and to contact CPS whenever they get a call about a child's welfare.
Police stopped Rafi and Dvora about halfway through a mile walk home Dec. 20 in Silver Spring. Police said they picked up the children and drove them home after someone reported seeing them.
In March, the Meitivs were found responsible for "unsubstantiated child neglect" in the incident.
The "unsubstantiated" ruling typically occurs when CPS "has some information supporting a finding of child neglect or has what appear to be credible reports that are at odds with each other or does not have sufficient information to reach a more definitive conclusion."
Danielle Meitiv had said back then that they planned on allowing the children to keep walking alone to and from the park.