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Published: Sunday, 2/26/2006

Inquiry backed sex-abuse claim against Gravelle

Roderick Scott Kelly, a former Lorain County social worker, testifies in the hearing for Sharen and Michael Gravelle. Roderick Scott Kelly, a former Lorain County social worker, testifies in the hearing for Sharen and Michael Gravelle.

NORWALK, Ohio - Documents filed with Lorain County Children Services show an investigation substantiated allegations that Michael Gravelle sexually abused his biological daughter in the 1980s, a former social worker for the agency testified yesterday.

Roderick Scott Kelly, who worked for the Lorain County agency from 1990 to 1993, also said in Huron County Juvenile Court that records show Mr. Gravelle completed just four months of a sexual-abuse counseling program that was supposed to last at least two years.

The court is conducting a custody hearing to decide whether 11 adopted children removed Sept. 9 from the home of Mr. Gravelle and his wife, Sharen, should be returned to the couple or placed in the permanent custody of Huron County.

Officials removed the children, ages 1 to 15, after finding wood-and-wire cages in the home that some of the youngsters slept in.

The children have been in foster homes since September. In December, Judge Timothy Cardwell ruled that eight of the children had been abused, and that all 11 were dependent, meaning conditions in the home put them at risk of being abused or neglected.

Mr. Gravelle's biological daughter, Jenna Gravelle, 31, testified Wednesday that her father inappropriately touched her when she was a child. Ms. Gravelle and her brother, Jesse Gravelle, 33, told the court that their father and stepmother isolated them on the lower floor of an Elyria, Ohio, duplex and eventually kicked them out of the home.

Mr. Kelly, reading from parts of a case file on the Gravelles, said Mr. Gravelle reported to the agency Sept. 12, 1986, that he had been sexually abusing his daughter, then 12, for approximately two years. Mr. Gravelle signed a document to enroll in a sexual-abuse counseling program on March 17, 1987, according to an agency document cited by Mr. Kelly. But another agency record from Aug. 19, 1987, states Mr. Gravelle had dropped out of the program and attended his last session July 14, 1987, Mr. Kelly testified.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle, from left, confer with attorney Ken Myers during a court hearing yesterday in Norwalk. Michael and Sharen Gravelle, from left, confer with attorney Ken Myers during a court hearing yesterday in Norwalk.

Mr. Kelly also read from a 1991 case summary that he wrote, which stated the Gravelles had a history of forcing their children out of their house "so they do not have to deal with their unruly, delinquent behavior."

No charges were filed in connection with the Lorain County abuse allegations. The Gravelles were indicted earlier this month in Huron County Common Pleas Court on charges of child endangering and other crimes in connection with the adoption of the 11 children and their treatment of the youngsters.

Jo Johnson, an investigator for the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services who removed the children from the Gravelle home, testified she was concerned about some of the couple's behaviors during court-ordered supervised visits with the youngsters. Ms. Johnson said the Gravelles repeatedly discussed the custody case with the children, despite warnings from caseworkers not to do so. "Usually it took several times of us saying, 'Stop talking about the case,' " she testified.

During the couple's second supervised visit, Mr. Gravelle spanked one of the younger children, Ms. Johnson said. She explained that she found the action troubling because it occurred within 20 minutes of the start of the visit, and because Mr. Gravelle did not first try another form of discipline to correct the boy's behavior. "My concern was based upon no other methods being attempted. It was the first thing that was automatically done at that moment," Ms. Johnson testified.

Kenneth Myers, an attorney for the Gravelles, asked the investigator whether spanking was, by definition, an inappropriate punishment. Ms. Johnson said no, then added, "I do believe that other things could have been tried before the spanking occurred."

Later, the attorney asked Ms. Johnson if she thought the Gravelles had stopped loving the children at some point during the couple's legal battle with the county.

"Stopped loving them, no," she testified. "Putting them first, yes."

Testimony in the case is to resume tomorrow morning.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.

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