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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Caged kids to share $1.2M in deal

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio - Eleven children who were confined in cages by a northern Ohio couple now in prison for child abuse will share in a $1.2 million settlement reached by their lawyers with Huron County.

Attorneys for the children had threatened to sue the county, arguing that officials there acted too slowly in uncovering the abuse at the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle.

Attorneys for Huron County have adamantly denied the accusations and said that the county acted appropriately.

County officials removed the children from the Gravelle home in rural Wakeman in 2005 and successfully prosecuted the couple, who are now serving two-year prison terms. The children, who suffered from problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating nonfood items, ranged in age from 1 to 14 at the time.

As well as making some of the children sleep in wire and wood cages, witnesses at the Gravelle's trial testified to other abuses carried out by the couple.

Those included shoving the children's heads into a toilet and flushing it, beating them with sticks and boards, and hosing them off outside the house in winter.

The Gravelles claimed they had to keep the children in cages to protect them from their own dangerous behavior.

An attorney for Huron County, Scyld Anderson, said county officials acted promptly and aggressively when they discovered the abuse. The children were placed in the Gravelle home by other agencies, not by Huron County, Mr. Anderson added.

Sharen and Michael Gravelle Sharen and Michael Gravelle
MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge

"Huron had no reason to know of the problems in the house. When they discovered the problems they pulled the kids out, prosecuted the parents, and obtained termination of their parental rights," Mr. Anderson said. "They've done a good job."

The county agreed to the settlement because it didn't want to be dragged into a drawn out legal dispute, Mr. Anderson explained.

"We thought the claims were weak," Mr. Anderson said. "But we didn't want to spend years in litigation when we could take that money and do something good for the kids."

He emphasized that the money for the settlement did not come from Huron County public coffers, but from a special fund set up by various counties in the state to cover unexpected legal costs.

Jack Landskroner, the children's attorney, said he was pleased with the settlement, which was preceded by months of negotiations. He said the money would be placed in a trust fund and distributed according to directions from the court.

Mr. Landskroner said the children are doing well in their new foster and adoptive homes.

"Obviously, they carry the baggage with them and will for rest of their lives," Mr. Landskroner said.

"But most of them are doing well, moving forward. The oldest daughter is in college, another is approaching college years and the other children … seem to be doing well and have significantly improved."

The children's lawyers plan to pursue more lawsuits against other entities and individuals responsible for placing the children in the Gravelles' home.

One lawsuit names Hamilton County, Adopt American Corporation, and a social worker, among others, and is pending in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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