National group lobbies to return Sky Metalwala's sister to father

Kirkland father Solomon Metalwala, right, is fighting for custody of his daughter Maile, left. The girl
Kirkland father Solomon Metalwala, right, is fighting for custody of his daughter Maile, left. The girl's brother Sky has been missing for nearly a month after their mother, Julia Biryukova, left him alone in a car in Bellevue.
— image credit: Julia Biryukova's Facebook page

Most feel the holiday season is a time for families to be together. But a judge will have to make a decision Monday on where 4-year-old Maile Metalwala will spend her Christmas and maybe beyond.

Maile has been caught in the middle of a custody dispute during the past year and is now a victim of her brother's missing-person case.

Maile’s brother, Sky, went missing Nov. 6. The kids’ mother, Julia Biryukova claimed her 2-year-old son was kidnapped after she left him in an unlocked car when her car ran out of gas in Bellevue.

She took her daughter and walked to a gas station to call a family friend. When they returned to the car, Sky was gone.

Maile was immediately put into foster care and a judge ruled on Nov. 10 that she stay in foster care until a dependency hearing this Monday in King County Superior Court.

But a national family court reform organization, Fathers and Families, has launched a campaign, demanding the court return the girl to her father.

The Boston-based organization is urging the public to call the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and King County Superior Court to give Metalwala sole custody of his daughter.

“Four-year-old Maile was shoved into the foster care system after the mysterious disappearance of her 2-year-old brother Sky,” said National Executive Director for Fathers and Families, Glenn Sacks. “Currently everyone’s focus is on finding Sky, as it should be. Yet it is also important that Maile be reunited with the father she loves and needs as soon as possible.”

According to the organization’s website, Fathers and Families aims to establish equal rights for fathers and mothers after a separation or divorce.

The homepage of the organization’s website has the custody issue as the main topic and urges the public to “tell officials to reunite Solomon Metalwala with his daughter Maile!”

But the group’s role in the custody battle is solely as an outside entity.

“We really want Maile home with her father, and we appreciate the support and prayers of other groups, but as far as Solomon is concerned, he must stay on the administrative track he is on,” said Metalwala’s attorney Clay Terry, pointing out that Metalwala has no part in the protest of outside groups. “... As long as the investigation is fair and balanced, we intend to remain within the guidelines currently provided to us.”

Sacks claims that the DSHS is “being bombarded with calls and letters demanding that they reunite Solomon Metalwala with his daughter,” thanks to the organization’s campaign. Maile has been “unjustly kept for almost a year” from her father, said Sacks.

“Through all the coverage of this highly-publicized case, the fact that this father and daughter have been separated without cause has slipped under the radar,” said Sacks, referring to the case as governmental abuse.

Maile and Sky were a part of a bitter custody battle during the past year, in which both parents alleged abuse and neglect against the other, according to court documents.

“Little Maile has had to go through a great deal for a little girl,” said Terry. “When she was just a baby, younger than Sky’s age, the happy family they had was turned around by the advent of Julia’s OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).”

By the time Maile was 3 years old, Terry said the girl’s mother had been involuntarily committed by the police for mental observation.

“When the mother got out, she went on a form of revenge ride in judicial system to prevent Solomon from seeing the children,” said Terry, noting the abuse allegations Biryukova brought against her estranged husband. “Then, when everything else failed, the mother claimed the child had been physical abused and possibly sexually abused.”

He said the hospital did not find any signs of sexual abuse. In addition, a polygraph and a second-opinion CPS investigation concluded that there was no physical abuse.

“However, the allegations, the teaming up of victim advocates who are supposed to help retrieve victims, and an abundance (actually, overabundance) of caution by the court prevented Solomon from seeing his children for more than 11 months,” said Terry, adding that Biryukova was given temporary custody of the children. “There was a provision to see the children with supervised visitation four hours a day, but it was connected to some very expensive and long-running domestic violence classes, which he could not afford.”

Terry said there was no domestic violence proven or accepted by any authority other than the court commissioner and “the victim’s advocates who hover protectively around anyone who makes such allegations, without the duty to check it out.”

Solomon has had four separate two-hour visits with his daughter since his son disappeared, and is permitted telephone contact with her every day, said Terry.

But some, like Sacks, believe he should have sole custody.

“When a mother and father are divorced or separated, and a child welfare agency removes the children from the mother’s home for abuse or neglect, an offer of placement to the father, barring unfitness, should be automatic,” said Sacks.

Yet, Sacks pointed out, when fathers inform child welfare officials that they would like their children to live with them, the agencies seek to place the children with their fathers in only 15 percent of cases, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

And 20 percent of the fathers whose identity and location were known by the child welfare agencies from the opening of the case are never even contacted, he continued.

Fathers and Families claims that Metalwala is a victim of two common problems. First, Family Law Commissioner Jacqueline Jeske, a former domestic violence prosecutor, approved a restraining order against Metalwala.

This was done despite the fact that Biryukova had previously made false abuse charges, and Child Protective Services had concluded that these new abuse charges were also false, said Sacks.

“Biryukova, having lied to police about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her son Sky, is a thoroughly discredited accuser,” said Sacks.

Second, the group claims that DSHS has kept Maile from her father partly because of child welfare agencies’ “institutional anti-father bias.”

Terry said the girl was ordered to remain in foster care because “there was still much information up in the air, including Julia’s old complaints against Solomon …,” he said. “Now, the new hearing will be to sort out some of the statements and concerns, which have been discounted, and begin a transition of the child back to her father. The child still has some matters to go through so that CPS is confident that she is not too traumatized.”

Biryukova has refused to speak with authorities and media, and refused to take a polygraph examination. She also did not attend the dependency hearing on Nov. 10, but requested that Maile be placed with Metalwala, despite her abuse allegations against her estranged husband.

Biryukova’s attorney Robert Flennaugh would not comment on the ongoing investigation.

But Terry said Metalwala is in complete agreement with the court process so far.

“Solomon showed up (to the Nov. 10 hearing) and was very gracious about the disappointing but apparent need to delay permanent custody to him.”

Editor Carrie Wood contributed to this report.

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