Couple kept 11 adopted children in cages
By Joe Milicia , Netscape News, December 7, 2005

NORWALK, Ohio (AP) - A couple accused of keeping 11 adopted special needs children in cages spanked them with a board if they got out and forced at least one to live in a bathroom for urinating in his enclosure, an investigator testified Wednesday.

The boy said he had to live in the bathroom for about three months, sleeping in the bathtub, Huron County sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers said during a custody hearing.

Sommers said two children told him about punishments of being shoved or being held under water. In another incident he said a child told of ``having his face shoved against a bathroom wall until his nose bled.''

The testimony came during an effort by the parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, to regain custody of the children, ages 1 to 15. The youngsters have health and behavioral problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV and a disorder in which children eat dirt.

``Have they told some lies? You betcha,'' Sharen Gravelle said after the second day of testimony. She added that her children were wonderful and she didn't want to say anything negative about them.

The Gravelles have not been charged. They say they built the enclosures with alarms for the children's own protection.

Child-welfare workers had heard rumors that the couple kept some of the children in cages two years before the youngsters were removed from the home, said Jo Ellen Johnson, an investigator for the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, in testimony Tuesday.

Officials tried to follow up on the rumors in 2003, but the Gravelles would not cooperate and a full investigation was never conducted. The children were finally taken from the Gravelles in September after Johnson visited the home and examined the chicken-wire cages.

``They were piled one on top of another. It looked like a kennel,'' Johnson said.

Judge Timothy Cardwell will determine whether the children were abused or neglected. If the allegations are not proved, the Gravelles, who live near rural Wakeman, could regain custody.

The Gravelles' attorney, Kenneth Myers, questioned why the county suddenly had to remove the children from the home two years after hearing about the cages. He asked Sommers whether he saw signs of abuse on the day the children were removed, and Sommers said no.

Sommers said he determined that the presence of the cages, the smell of urine and the fact that the home did not have functioning smoke detectors presented a risk of harm to the children.

``In my professional opinion, children should not be kept in cages,'' Sommers said.

The children told Sommers that they were spanked with a board if they left their enclosures, and fear of such punishment led them to urinate and defecate inside.

Sommers testified that at least six of the children said they did not like the enclosures. Some called them boxes or box beds. One child called them cages.

One boy said he feared what would happen if there was a fire. The same boy reported having to live in the bathroom, being allowed out only for meals, Sommers said. ``He just sat and watched everybody outside playing,'' Sommers said.

Myers said after the hearing that the boy was never confined in the bathroom. He only slept in the bathtub at the recommendation of a therapist to help resolve a problem the boy was having soiling himself.

``It worked,'' Myers said.

Psychologists who evaluated the children were to testify later in the hearing.

12/07/05 19:19 Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained In this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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