Agency attracts controversy over handling of cage case

Date: 2005-09-20

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

Huron County Commission President Michael Adelman inquired by telephone yesterday to Erich Dumbeck, director of DJFS, if he'd had opportunity to peruse the file yet, said Adelman.

Dumbeck told the commissioner he had, adding that the contents of the file were not going to be released due to the strict confidentiality laws surrounding the agency's documents, said Adelman.

"I told him I wanted to confirm that he didn't review it and he told me he did review it," said Adelman.

"It could have been today for all I know," said Adelman as to when Dumbeck reviewed the file.

As part of Dumbeck's job description, Adelman said, he would expect Dumbeck to review every case.

"I don't have any reason to think Erich wouldn't take a look at things and do a thorough job as he's entrusted to do," said Adelman. "As the director, it is his place to review any cases that come in there."

On Friday during an interview with The Morning Journal, Dumbeck responded that he'd not read the file when asked whether complaints were fielded by his agency on the Gravelles concerning mistreatment of the children .

On Sept. 9, a child abuse investigator worked in conjunction with the Huron County Sheriff's Office to remove the children and launch an investigation into the nine cages trimmed with bright colors, but flanked with wire, that remain on the second story of the St. John Road home, the sheriff's office has said.

Adelman said he has always found the DJFS to be an efficient agency, but added he would expect an internal investigation to be launched if the allegations are true that complaints have been made and a home study was conducted by the agency.

"Let the people that do the investigations do their jobs and make determinations after that," said Adelman of a subsequent internal investigation. "There are a lot of things surrounding this whole situation that are under investigation and I have faith that everything will be conducted in a proper manner and everything will be visited or investigated properly.

"Anything and everything that needs to be looked at will be in the course of this whole matter," Adelman added.

Laurie Oney, a former friend of the Gravelles, told the Morning Journal last week she called DJFS in both 2001 and 2002 reporting alleged mistreatments of the children by their parents, including spankings with broken broomsticks. Adelman said if it is discovered that Oney actually made those reports, he would support an internal investigation of the department's findings.

Dumbeck refused last week to answer whether the agency investigated the complaints or conducted a home study of the Gravelle residence as one adoption agency alluded to last week.

Dumbeck called the County Commission early last week to alert them of the Gravelle case and "said the whole situation would be investigated," said Adelman.

Commissioners Ralph Fegley and Gary Bauer did not return calls to The Morning Journal yesterday for comment.

The Gravelle's case is not the only controversial one currently surrounding the embattled DJFS.

In the Huron County Common Pleas Court earlier this month, Paul Efaw, of Monroeville, was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the stabbing death of his foster daughter, 11-year-old Connre Dixon -- who was placed into Efaw's care by the DJFS.

Dixon was stabbed five times in the chest on Oct. 18, 2004, by Efaw months after the DJFS placed Dixon in Efaw's care as a foster parent, according to testimony during the two-week trial. Efaw is expected to be sentenced on Oct. 18, the first anniversary of the girl's death.

The DJFS is being sued along with the Huron County Commission and Efaw in a wrongful death lawsuit by the administrator of Dixon's estate, according to court records. The case is in the process of proceedings, stated court records.

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