State lashed agency in ’06 on Gravelles

Date: 2007-01-12

State lashed agency in ’06 on Gravelles

Director had claimed lack of criticism

Friday, January 12, 2007
Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Norwalk — The director of the county’s Department of Job & Family Services has maintained for more than a year that the state found his agency blameless in the Michael and Sharen Gravelle child-abuse case.

But a letter released Thursday shows Director Erich Dumbeck has known since February 2006 that state officials said his agency made serious missteps in responding to child abuse complaints against the couple.

Last month, a jury found each of the Gravelles guilty of 11 of 24 counts of child endangerment and child abuse. Prosecutors focused on enclosures — which they called cages — that the couple built around some of their 11 adopted, special-needs children’s beds.

The Gravelles maintained throughout the trial that county officials knew of the enclosures years before the children were taken from the home in September 2005.

The Gravelles will be sentenced Feb. 12. The children were placed for adoption last March.

The wooden and wire enclosures drew worldwide publicity when they came to light. At least two jurors were among those criticizing county officials for failing to remove the children sooner.

Huron County commissioners demanded that Dumbeck release to them the letter, which criticizes agency workers.

The letter addressed to Dumbeck and dated Feb. 22, 2006, from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services says:

The county failed to thoroughly investigate child abuse complaints against the Gravelles in 2000, 2001 and 2005.

The records did not say, as required by law, that the agency needed to immediately remove the children.

The agency did not respond to the complaints immediately and did not continue to attempt face-to-face contact with the child.

In 1999, the county placed a child with the Gravelles before they were certified as a foster home. Documents indicate the agency was aware of the problem.

The state ordered the county to correct its problems and submit a plan in 30 days.

Asked Thursday why he claimed for more than a year that the state found his agency faultless, Dumbeck said, “I cannot answer that.”

Dumbeck said Ohio’s adoption system, not his agency, is to blame. The Gravelles adopted children from around the state and jurisdictional barriers prevented each adoption agency from getting earlier information about the couple, he said.

“We didn’t do everything perfect,” he said. “As a system, we dropped the ball. No doubt about it.”

Commissioner Gary Bauer said the county will not take any action until the Gravelle case has completely worked its way through the court system.

Ken Myers, who represented the Gravelles during their trial, said the letter was released because of pressure on county officials.

“It’s shocking that it has taken a year for it to come out when the county has glibly said they have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Dumbeck submitted to the state last July a list of new procedures the agency intends to follow. County commissioners instructed Dumbeck on Thursday to report back after the state completes another review of the agency this month.

© 2007 The Plain Dealer


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