A Saline County couple faces a lawsuit from the state attorney general's office after authorities said the two lied to doctors about the highly publicized illnesses of their adopted son.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Kristy and Erik Schneider of Alexander, accusing them of falsifying their child's health condition to medical providers and lying to the public with claims of the boy being deathly ill, which resulted in them receiving more than $31,000 in charitable contributions and donations. The complaint alleges that the Schneiders' actions violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
"They essentially took advantage of the goodwill of Arkansans," Rutledge said at a news conference in her office Wednesday afternoon. "Quite frankly, this case is sad and sickening that parents would put their own child at risk for profit."
Rutledge said each violation that the court finds of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act could result in injunctions and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
The lawsuit was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Kristy Schneider surrendered Tuesday to law enforcement officials in Saline County after she was charged earlier this week with endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree, a Class D felony.
The adopted son's struggles with reported illnesses were covered at length by news outlets, and there were several community efforts to support the boy.
Kristy and Erik Schneider adopted the 5-year-old boy in 2014.
Rutledge's lawsuit said that in February 2019, Kristy began posting on CaringBridge.org, a website that allows users to maintain a public personal health journal to inform friends and relatives during any type of health journey. She used this website to say that the boy had multiple health problems, including with his digestive tract, the suit said.
That same month, the Schneiders and the boy, who went by Louie at the time, were featured in news reports after "hundreds of law enforcement officials" greeted him along the way to Arkansas Children's Hospital for end-of-life care to honor the boy's final request, according to an ABC News article. He received hundreds of letters of support from around the county.
"So many of us watched what we were led to believe was his last trip to Children's Hospital," Rutledge said. "The Schneiders knew differently."
Rutledge said this event also involved resources paid for by taxpayers in the form of hundreds of law enforcement officers from Central Arkansas.
While the child was at Children's Hospital, his prognosis changed dramatically after he was taken off of a nutrition line.
According to Rutledge's lawsuit, rather than viewing this as a positive development, the Schneiders put the child back on the nutrition line and remarked that the child "did a bad job dying," while refusing to give him frozen treats that a pediatrician later testified was a reason behind the improvement.
The child was treated at the Mayo Clinic from May 28, 2019, to June 14, 2019. While at the Mayo Clinic, Kristy requested a referral for hospice, but the physicians refused to grant her request, believing it to be medically unnecessary, the suit said.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services began to receive reports throughout the summer and fall of 2019 that Kristy was intentionally causing her children's illness, the lawsuit said.
Later, several of his doctors and state Human Services Department attorneys claimed that the boy was a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, according to the lawsuit.
The Mayo Clinic defines factitious disorder imposed on another -- previously called Munchausen syndrome by proxy -- as "when someone falsely claims that another person has physical or psychological signs or symptoms of illness, or causes injury or disease in another person with the intention of deceiving others."
The 11-year-old boy was taken away from the Schneiders in September 2019 after the Human Services Department received a tip through the child abuse hot line.
"Unfortunately, the abuse this child received at the hands of his parents just came out a year ago," Rutledge said.
Rutledge said the child is safe, but any further questions about the condition of the minor would need to go through the Department of Human Services. A spokesman for the department said Tuesday that the agency was prohibited from saying whether he had been adopted by another family.
Information for this article was contributed by Ashton Eley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.