NORWALK, Ohio - A witness in the child abuse trial of Sharen and Michael Gravelle testified yesterday that Mrs. Gravelle called her adopted children "monkeys" and said they needed tough discipline.
Carlyle Smith, a part-time employee of Comfort Keepers, testified he visited the Gravelles' home in October, 2003, to meet with the family because he was considering a job as a part-time caregiver in the home.
He said early in the interview that the Gravelles told him he was not to go upstairs, where the children slept.
He also testified that Mrs. Gravelle referred to the children, who are black, as "monkeys" in the presence of the children during his interview. The Gravelles are white, and the jury of 10 men and six women is white.
"You'll have to watch this little monkey because he'll try to steal you blind," Mr. Smith said Mrs. Gravelle told him.
He said she also pointed to a little girl nearby and warned him not to let her climb in his lap, because "she'll get sexual."
During the interview, Mr. Smith said Mr. Gravelle took him to a building at the rear of the property that Mr. Gravelle said they used as a chapel. During that time, Mr. Smith said he discussed his Christian values and talked about his other jobs coaching high school football and basketball teams.
"He looked me in the eye and he told me ... 'I consider myself to be Moses,'•" Mr. Smith testified, saying Mr. Gravelle made references to "leading little children."
During cross-examination, Mr. Smith said he did not anticipate having a problem handling 11 small children, and he pointed to his career coaching up to 30 football players.
He told defense lawyer Kenneth Myers he was offended by Mrs. Gravelle's calling the children monkeys.
"I thought it was an insensitive thing to say," Mr. Smith said. "I don't think you should call a kid a monkey, especially kids who are black."
Mr. Smith, who said he was supposed to visit with the Gravelles for four hours during the get-acquainted session, decided early that he would not take the position.
"At that point I was looking at the clock and hoping to get out of there real quick," he said.
He said he left the Gravelles' property soon after and didn't take the job.
Mr. Smith testified he did not inform police or social workers about the encounter with the Gravelles, but did tell his supervisor at Comfort Keepers, who called Huron County's Job and Family Services office.
Mr. Smith testified that he and his boss met with county social workers about a week later to tell them about his observations about the Gravelles, but he never heard back from anyone at the county for two years - until shortly after 11 adopted children were removed from the home by law-enforcement officials.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Richard Drucker tore into Mr. Smith's testimony, drawing out of him details of his varied coaching positions, his part-time position with Comfort Keepers that lasted less than a year, and his current, but longtime job as a weekend musician.
"You're asking the jury to believe what you're saying?" Mr. Drucker shouted.
Judge Earl McGimpsey ordered him to stop "badgering" the witness.
Suzanne Sidell, a social worker for the Huron County Department of Jobs and Family Services, testified that she was at the meeting with Mr. Smith and agency workers, including its administrator, David Broehl, and Stephanie Alexander.
Ms. Sidell works in the foster-care unit and took notes of the Oct. 28, 2003, meeting with Mr. Smith, who outlined his concerns about the Gravelles.
The prosecutor asked Ms. Sidell if she was aware if the agency acted on Mr. Smith's concerns.
"No," she said.
During cross-examination, she told Mr. Myers that she did not believe that what Mr. Smith described constituted child abuse.
"I didn't take it that way," she said.
Earlier in the day, Huron County Sheriff Richard Sutherland testified about conducting a search of the Gravelles' home on Sept. 9, 2005.
He described a strong smell of urine, small cages, and deplorable sanitation, which he said led his deputies to decide that removing the children from the home was the best course of action.
He testified that the wood and wire cages did not appear to be large enough for some of the older children to sleep in. The sheriff said he would not call the cages beds: "That's where they slept."
The Gravelles are on trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court on 24 counts each of endangering their children and putting their safety at risk.
"In my 37 years in law enforcement, I have never, ever seen anything that compares to this type of child neglect, child endangering," Sheriff Sutherland said.
Jenna Gravelle, a biological daughter of the parents on trial, was to have taken the stand as a prosecution witness, but she did not testify.
Instead, the defense attorneys and Prosecutor Russ Leffler agreed to a "stipulation" approved by the judge that allowed elements of a telephone call between Ms. Gravelle and her father to be entered into the record without requiring her to testify in court.
The stipulation read to the jury described a phone call Ms. Gravelle got from her father in which he told her that Mrs. Gravelle had beaten the children with a strap and with wood. Later, Mr. Myers explained that the stipulation was agreed to as a way to enter certain facts into the record and avoid having Ms. Gravelle testify.
Ms. Gravelle had testified in the Juvenile Court hearing that led to the Gravelles losing permanent custody. In that hearing, she testified that her father sexually abused her.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6078.41.242 -82.61524