Judge denies pair custody of caged kids


NORWALK, Ohio - Sharen Gravelle's own words came back to haunt her yesterday.

A Huron County judge cited the adoptive mother's testimony during a custody hearing earlier this month and her comments to reporters as among his reasons for terminating her and her husband's parental rights to their 11 adopted children.

Judge Timothy Cardwell of Huron County Juvenile Court placed all but one of the youngsters in the permanent custody of the county Department of Job and Family Services. The 11th child, an Illinois native whose adoption by the Gravelles wasn't finalized, was kept in temporary county custody pending possible adoption in Ohio.

All of the children, ages 2 to 15, have been in foster care since being removed Sept. 9 from the Clarksfield Township home of Mrs. Gravelle and her husband, Michael. County authorities took the youngsters from the home after finding that some of them had been kept in wood-and-wire cages for sleeping and for punishment.

"It was obvious that Mrs. Gravelle still does not see the harm the children suffered in her household," Judge Cardwell wrote in his nine-page decision. "Mrs. Gravelle admitted telling national television media that some of the children still need to be contained in the boxes, even after the children were removed from her home in September. Mrs. Gravelle instead has a belief that these cases were filed because 'Children's Services has a personal vendetta' against her."

Mrs. Gravelle, who testified for several hours March 1, also acknowledged during the custody hearing that she signed an affidavit for an adoption home study in the early 1990s without reading it. That document, she testified, contained inaccurate and incomplete information about the couple's background.

"Either Mrs. Gravelle purposefully lied on a statement under oath or she was extremely nonchalant about the accuracy of the information she was providing for a home study that would permit her to adopt children," the judge wrote. "Either of these scenarios is troubling to the court and certainly reflects adversely on Mrs. Gravelle's credibility."

Judge Cardwell ruled in December that eight of the Gravelle children had been abused, and that all 11 were dependent, meaning that conditions in the home put them at risk of abuse.

The Gravelles were indicted last month on felony charges of endangering children, perjury, and falsification, plus misdemeanor charges of endangering children. They have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to be tried Sept. 12 in Huron County Common Pleas Court.

In yesterday's decision, Judge Cardwell noted a history of sexual-abuse allegations involving Mr. Gravelle and testimony from three psychologists that the children were likely to be abused again if they were returned to their adoptive parents.

During the custody hearing, Mr. Gravelle's adult daughter Jenna testified that he inappropriately touched her on several occasions when she was a child. According to documents filed with Lorain County Children Services, Mr. Gravelle admitted molesting his daughter and enrolled in a treatment program but did not complete it.

Judge Cardwell said the Gravelles failed to work with county social workers toward possible reunification with the children and were in some cases hostile toward the employees.

"The Gravelles have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to prevent the children from suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse," the judge wrote.

As part of his order, the judge approved a county case plan that calls for the children to be adopted by other families. The youngsters have been divided among foster families, some of whom have expressed interest in adopting one or more of the children.

According to court records, the Gravelles were receiving $4,256 a month in adoption subsidies and Social Security benefits in 2001, when they had eight adopted children.

David Broehl, administrator for the Department of Job and Family Services, testified during the custody hearing that the foster parents, as a group, were getting $8,250 a month in foster-care subsidies from the agency.

It was unclear yesterday if those payments would continue or be altered. Neither Mr. Broehl nor Erich Dumbeck, the agency's director, could be reached for comment.

Kenneth Myers, the Gravelles' attorney, said he would appeal the judge's decision, which he called "harsh," to the 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo.

"We disagree with the ruling," he said during a news conference in front of the Huron County Courthouse. "We disagree very strongly with the ruling, and we hope that the court of appeals will overturn it."

He read a statement from the couple, who did not attend. "We are very saddened by the court's ruling," the statement said. "We love our children and we will continue to fight to have them returned to us."

Attorneys for the county and the children cheered the ruling.

"I just know I'm satisfied with the decision we have, and I just hope we can focus on the children and their future lives," said Jennifer DeLand, an assistant county prosecutor.

T. Douglas Clifford, an attorney for the children, said he was "very happy for the kids."

"They're going to have a chance, you know, to have a normal life now and grow up in a safe family environment, which is not what they've had over the last couple of years in the Gravelle home," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:


or 419-724-6078.