Social worker doesn't recall hearing the word 'cages'

Date: 2006-12-09

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

David Broehl, of the Department of Job and Family Services, said he doesn't recall hearing the word "cages" used during a meeting where several complaints were leveled against the Gravelles concerning their treatment of their adopted children, according to his testimony yesterday in the Gravelles criminal trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court.

"I remember Carlyle (Smith, a respite caregiver) mentioning a lot of things about the children, but I do not remember him mentioning the cages at all," Broehl said.

Broehl and three other department representatives, including an investigator and the supervisor of investigators, met with Smith in 2003 when Smith reported seeing the enclosed beds and mistreatment of the children.

"After the meeting, we discussed whether we felt there was anything that would rise to the level of an investigation." Department employee Brian Lindsey "thought there wasn't and I felt there wasn't," Broehl said.

Lindsey was the supervisor of the investigators at the time of the meeting, Broehl said.

Smith testified last week that he told investigators that he witnessed Sharen Gravelle sending the children to their "cages" for the day and that the children were referred to as "monkeys," were sat on to deter temper tantrums and were mentally and emotionally abused.

Smith said he had been sent to the home in 2003 when he worked for Comfort Keepers to give the Gravelles a break from caring for the children, but he couldn't fulfill the obligation because the couples' parenting style offended him.

The Gravelles were indicted on 16 felony and eight misdemeanor counts of child endangering after county officials said they used homemade "cages" as beds and as places for discipline.

The couple began adopting children in the 1990s and took in their 11th child in 2005. The children ranged from 1 to 14 years old when they were removed from the Gravelles' custody in September 2005 and placed in foster care. The Huron County Juvenile Court terminated the Gravelles' parental rights in March.

Broehl was at the Gravelles' Clarksfield Township house in 2004 to discuss with the couple subsidy funding they were receiving for the children, he said.

"We had a very good conversation," Broehl said of his meeting with the Gravelles.

Defense attorney Ken Myers asked Broehl whether he attempted to go upstairs where the enclosed beds were located.

"I had no intention of going past the place where we had that conversation," Broehl said.

After the children were removed from the home by the Department of Job and Family Services and the sheriff's office, Broehl said, the department officials didn't expect the children to be in such good condition.

"Overall, we were pleasantly surprised that these kids had far less issues than we were reading in the (subsidy) reports," Broehl said.

The subsidy reports were submitted by Elaine Thompson, the Gravelles' private therapist, who treated the children and received subsidy money from Job and Family Services. She was indicted on eight counts of failure to report abuse and 24 counts of aiding and abetting endangering a child.

Thompson is on the witness list, but it is unknown whether she will testify, according to officials.

When questioned by Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler, Broehl said he would've launched an investigation based on the reports had he read them prior to the removal of the children.

"Looking over these notes, would they have caused an investigation?" Leffler said.

"Yes, we would have begun the process," Broehl said.

At one point during questioning from Myers, Broehl struggled with his answers as to whether he was qualified to be testifying yesterday.

"You're saying you're not qualified to testify as to whether these children were harmed," Myers asked.

"I'm just not comfortable with that question," Broehl said. "I don't know if I'm qualified or not. ... I'm an individual, a parent and have been the coach of girls high school soccer for more than 20 years."

Whether the children were harmed is an issue in the trial proceedings, as is whether they are "special-needs" children.

The Gravelles have maintained they needed to use the enclosed beds for the children to protect them from their own destructive behavior because of their special needs. However, the state claims the children don't have special needs other than typical childhood behavioral issues such as attention deficiencies and stress-related issues due to the Gravelles' home.

William Benninger, a mental health professional who examined the children after they were removed from the Gravelles' home, testified yesterday that the treatment they received in the home posed a significant threat to the children's well-being.

One of the younger children, whom Benninger described as "mild mannered ... and a bit withdrawn at first," complained to Benninger about his enclosed bed, Benninger testified.

The child described the contraption as having "wires around it" saying that the wire "poked him" in the eye, Benninger said.

"The stressful, abusive environment" could have lead to many of the children's behavioral issues and could have caused "hospitalization or prolonged psychiatric care," Benninger testified under questioning from Leffler.

The defense attorneys attempted to disqualify Benninger as an expert witness, but Judge Earl McGimpsey allowed him to testify.

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