Gravelle juror: County accountable

Date: 2007-01-04

Gravelle juror: County accountable

Workers failed to protect kids, woman says

Thursday, January 4, 2007
Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Huron County social workers failed to protect the adopted children of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, said a juror who recently helped convict the couple of 11 counts of child endangering and abuse.

Huron County Department of Job & Family Services caseworkers should be held accountable for not acting sooner to provide a safe home for the 11 special-needs children, said juror Nancy Whitacre.

“They had a report two years ago about the beds,” the Wakeman resident said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Why didn’t one of them go out there?”

Erich Dumbeck, the agency director, bristled at Whitacre’s claims. Social workers and supervisors responded quickly once they discovered the situation, he said.

“We didn’t drop the ball,” Dumbeck said. “We did an exceptional job of taking care of these kids.”

The Gravelles were convicted last month of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Each was acquitted of 13 charges.

Prosecutors accused the couple of keeping the adopted children in cages. But the Gravelles said they built the unlocked enclosures around some of the children’s beds to protect them from hurting themselves and others.

The children suffer from a range of disorders that cause defiant rages and eating of items like wood and hardware. The county removed the children from the Gravelle home in September 2005, and the couple lost custody of the children in March.

The so-called cages drew worldwide publicity about the case. But jurors did not focus solely on the wooden and wire enclosures during their 22 hours of deliberations, Whitacre said.

The Gravelles appeared to have good intentions by adopting the children, but the situation spiraled downward, Whitacre said.

“The jury was fair to them,” she said.

The children lived under deplorable conditions because no action was taken, Whitacre wrote in a letter to county commissioners and the Sandusky Register.

“Two years!” she wrote. “Why? Where is the accountability of the county agency and its employees?”

Whitacre, 66, urged county commissioners to restore public trust in their agencies. “Show these children you will not fail them again,” she wrote.

County officials will discuss the agency’s involvement with the family because of the letter, Commissioner Gary Bauer said. A state investigation did not issue findings against the agency, he said.

A former respite care worker testified in the trial that he met with county officials in 2003 to discuss conditions in the Gravelle home.

Dumbeck said he was not leading the agency when the initial tips came in about the beds. Social workers investigated and found nothing wrong, he said.

Prosecutor Russell Leffler said the agency receives thousands of complaints, and it’s difficult to determine which are valid.

But, he said: “It’s apparent the department dropped the ball to some extent. I think that’s evident.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 440-324-3773

© 2007 The Plain Dealer


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