New claims made that 'caged kids' case halted over politics

Date: 2007-01-25

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

Leffler denied the allegations.

"That's a crazy thing to say," he said. "I have never not prosecuted a case because it was an election year. That's just not me," said Leffler.

The documents and affidavits were filed yesterday by Sharen Gravelle's attorney, Ken Myers, in support of a hearing today to whether the Gravelles should have their criminal convictions overturned or be granted a new trial. The Gravelles were each convicted in December of two misdemeanor and four felony counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse involving some of the 11 children they had adopted.

"Stephanie (Alexander, a former investigator who worked for the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services) stated she brought this to the attention of prosecuting attorney Russell Leffler with regard to all the allegations and attorney Leffler did not want to do anything because it was an election year," according to Myers' motion for acquittal or a new trial.

The allegations of "cages" came out of a meeting between employees of Comfort Keepers, a respite care company, and county social workers in October 2003, according to the documents.

"So, therefore nothing was done by the way of a court order and or involvement with the court," stated a report written by Department of Job and Family Services Investigator Jo Johnson and submitted to the court by Myers.

Myers referred to the document as "yet another document with arguably exculpatory evidence (that) had been withheld from defendants."

Additionally, Myers is accusing officials of "redacting" the statement alleging Leffler's refusal to prosecute the case from the version of the social worker notes given to Myers for the Gravelles' Huron County Juvenile Court proceedings. The Gravelles lost custody of the children in March 2006 after the juvenile court hearings. The children were removed from the Gravelle home in September 2005 and placed in foster care.

Myers documents said he saw the unredacted report for the first time on Jan. 23, 2007, as a result of an affidavit and reports given to him by Margaret Kern, the court advocate for the Gravelle children.

Kern had stated to Huron County Commissioners, earlier this month, that some Job and Family Services employees perjured themselves during testimony in the Gravelles' trial. It was partially her statements that led to the request resulting in today's hearing.

"Now it appears there is evidence -- that any county official who had access to the Gravelle case file knew or should have known, and that Jo Johnson and Stephanie Alexander certainly knew -- that the county was aware of the Comfort Keepers allegations about the cages in 2003 and intentionally declined to investigate further for political reasons," according to Myers' motion for acquittal or a new trial.

Leffler said he spoke to Alexander yesterday after reading Myers' documents. Alexander told Leffler she was referencing an earlier investigation in 2000, unrelated to the Gravelles, he said. Leffler pointed out that he was unopposed for re-election.

Kern attended the couple's trial initially as a witness, but then after being excused without being called to testify, she stayed on to observe, stated her affidavit.

"I was present when David Broehl (an administrator at the HCJFS) testified as a state witness. From my recollection of his testimony, David Broehl testified that he did not remember any conversation about cages during the meeting with Carlisle Smith (Comfort Keepers employee). Mr. Broehl further testified that after the meeting, Brian Lindsley (another HCJFS administrator) and he decided there was no reason to further investigate Carlisle Smith's allegations," stated Kern's affidavit.

"It is my belief, based on my record review that David Broehl knew about the cages, and that his testimony was inaccurate and not truthful," stated Kern's affidavit.

Kern could be called to testify at today's hearing.

Also subpoenaed have been Department of Job and Family Services Director Erich Dumbeck, Broehl, Lindsley and Alexander, according to court records.

"The potential consequences of this information are staggering; if in fact Mr. Leffler told Stephanie Alexander that he did not want to do anything about the Comfort Keeper allegations for political reasons, at the very least, it would have caused defendants to seek testimony on that point from Stephanie Alexander and to seek to have Mr. Leffler called as a witness," Myers' motion stated.

Myers' motion also requests the court take into consideration a state report criticizing the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services' investigation of the Gravelles.

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