Michael Gravelle stands near a bunk bed built in the room where four of his adopted children slept. The judge agreed to add two people to the visitation sessions the Gravelles have with the children.
NORWALK, Ohio - A Huron County judge refused yesterday to return 11 special-needs children to their adoptive parents, keeping them in county custody pending a hearing Dec. 6 on allegations that the youngsters were abused and neglected.
County authorities removed the children, ages 1-14, from the Clarksfield Township home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle on Sept. 9 after learning that some of the youngsters were being kept in homemade wood-and-wire cages.
An attorney for the couple, Kenneth Myers, filed a motion this month seeking the return of the children or an increase in visitation for Mr. and Mrs. Gravelle. Since the youngsters were removed and placed in foster homes, the couple have seen the children every other week for one hour under the supervision of caseworkers.
"Based on the information submitted, the court finds the motion for Immediate Return of, or Extended Visitation with the Children to be not well taken," Judge Timothy Cardwell wrote in a brief ruling.
However, the judge did agree to a request from the family to allow Mrs. Gravelle's mother; her adult daughter Lisa, and Mr. Myers to be included in the visitation sessions.
"I don't view this as a loss because we really didn't lose anything," Mr. Myers said. "In fact, we gained visitations for a couple of family members. We just didn't gain as much as I would have liked."
Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand had filed a response Monday opposing Mr. Myers' motion on behalf of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, which has temporary custody of the children.
"Returning the children to the home, or allowing visitation to occur in the home that is the issue of the complaint, is not in the children's best interest," Ms. DeLand wrote.
"Among other things, Father and Mother have not indicated any willingness to cease the use of the enclosures. Returning the children to the Gravelle home would put the children at risk for additional future harm."
A Chicago-area adoption agency also filed a response opposing the return of the children to the Gravelles. The Cradle is seeking to have the youngest of the children, a 19-month-old girl, returned to Illinois; her adoption by the Gravelles has not been finalized.
Margaret Kern, who was appointed the children's guardian ad litem by the court, filed a motion stating that she could not take a position on the Gravelles' request because she has not received discovery material sought from county authorities.
However, she wrote that the children "are doing quite well in school. They are very friendly, cooperative, great kids."
Court Administrator Christopher Mushett said Judge Cardwell hopes to rule this week on requests from Ms. Kern and Mr. Myers for access to evidence in the case.
George Ford, a Huron County public defender who represents the children, said he had not seen Judge Cardwell's ruling and could not comment.
No criminal charges have been filed. The Gravelles have denied harming the children and argued that the enclosures were needed to protect the children from harming themselves and each other.
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