Gravelles, social worker indicted

Date: 2006-02-15

Gravelles, social worker indicted

By Carl Matzelle & Molly Kavanaugh
Plain Dealer Reporter

Norwalk — The parents accused of forcing some of their adopted children to sleep in cages have been indicted along with their social worker, according to documents released Tuesday.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle were charged with 16 felony counts of child endangering; eight misdemeanor counts of child endangering; five counts of falsification, a misdemeanor; and one count of perjury, a felony.

Elaine Thompson, the private social worker who counseled the 11 special-needs children, was charged with 16 felony counts of complicity to child endangering, eight misdemeanor counts of complicity to child endangering and eight misdemeanor counts of failure to report abuse.

The Gravelles’ children, ages 1 to 15, were removed from their home in September after complaints to child welfare officials.

The case quickly garnered worldwide attention and focused questions on Ohio’s lax adoption practices. An investigation by the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services concluded in November that the system was so flawed it could not protect children from going to homes with too many children, unsafe conditions or parents who are accused of child abuse.

The Gravelles have denied mistreating the children. They say they built wood and wire enclosures around the children’s beds to protect them from their own rages and destructive behavior.

Michael Gravelle said he was saddened to learn of the charges.

“We did what we thought was right,” he said. “We are not going to roll over because they are playing hardball. We are going to continue to fight. This is about 11 children we love, and we gave them a home.”

Ken Myers, the couple’s attorney, said they were “expecting the worst but hoping for the best.

“These are really good people,” Myers said. “If the county had problems with the beds or any aspect of their parenting, officials could have helped instead of removing the children.”

Thompson referred questions to her attorney, Marilu Laubenthal, who said her client was “absolutely devastated. She’s spent her entire career working with adoptive families.”

Thompson has testified that she knew the children slept in enclosed beds but thought the structures were necessary for their safety.

Thompson, herself the mother of an adopted child, was ready to end her 40-year career but delayed retirement to continue working with the Gravelles, Laubenthal said.

Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler was unavailable to comment.

He told the Associated Press that the perjury and falsification charges against the Gravelles involved adoption applications and funding.

The Gravelles are scheduled to be arraigned in Huron County Common Pleas Court at 8:45 a.m. Feb. 22 – 45 minutes before a scheduled three-day hearing in Juvenile Court over custody of the children.

Myers said he did not think the arraignment would affect the custody proceeding.

The Gravelles have dismantled the walls around the beds in hopes the children can return home.

Plain Dealer Reporter Mark Puente contributed to this story. To reach these Plain Dealer reporters:, 440-934-0522, 440-934-0506

© 2006 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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