Social worker says he saw abuse

Date: 2006-12-02

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

Suzie Sidell said Carlisle Smith, who worked for a company that provides baby-sitting services, saw the cages and witnessed the couple mistreating their adopted children while he interviewed the couple.

Sidell said Smith then told her agency what he saw, but nothing happened.

"So, (the Department of Job and Family Services) knew Carlisle Smith was alleging there were cages in the house?" Sharen Gravelle's attorney, Ken Myers, asked Sidell, who still works for the agency. "Would it be accurate to say the hierarchy of the agency understood what Carlisle Smith's concerns were about the Gravelle home?"

"Yes, sir," Sidell said.

Smith also testified that Sharen Gravelle sent one child to a cage for the night for asking to use the bathroom before his scheduled time.

During the four-hour visit to the Gravelles' home in October 2003, Smith said one of the male children asked to use the restroom in midafternoon.

"Go to your cage. That's exactly what she said," Smith testified. "She said, ÔGet up to your cage. You're there until morning."'

Smith also testified that he met with Michael Gravelle at a small chapel on their property and Gravelle told him, "I consider myself to be Moses."

Smith was "very upset" as he drove away in contemplation of the Gravelles and became sick on the side of the road, he said. Prosecutor Russ Leffler also said it this week during the beginning of the criminal trial against the Gravelles.

The couple are each facing 24 counts of child endangering charges as well as a falsification charge in connection with the treatment of 11 adopted children who were in their care prior to their removal in September 2005.

"(Sharen Gravelle) let me know she expected me to be the disciplinary force that she was when she wasn't there," Smith testified while being questioned by Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler.

Smith was also uncomfortable about Sharen Gravelle referring to the children as "little monkeys," he said, adding that he felt it was racially insensitive because the children were black.

The Gravelles also instructed Smith to "sit on the children," he testified. The couple told him sitting on the children was what he should do if they erupted into a temper tantrum or other misbehaviors, Smith said.

Smith and Michael Gravelle also discussed the cages during the visit, Smith testified.

"Both the Gravelles referred to them as cages," said Smith under questioning from Michael Gravelle's defense attorney Richard Drucker.

Michael Gravelle told Smith that he had built the contraptions out of chicken wire and two-by-fours but "had to reinforce them because the kids were trying to tear them down," Smith testified.

"I couldn't perform this job. I couldn't be like them," Smith said.

Smith said he reported the information about the Gravelles to three officials at Job and Family Services, but never heard back from any of them until last year. "I've waited all these years to see what would happen. It has bothered me since that day," said Smith.

Meanwhile, the Job and Family Services officials decided not to pursue an investigation into the complaint about the Gravelles' parenting, but Sidell said she didn't know why.

Sidell said Stephanie Alexander, a former Job and Family Services employee who worked as a child abuse investigator, was at the meeting with Smith and Sidell, as well as David Broehl, an administrator for Job and Family Services.

Sidell referred further questions about why the investigation was never launched to Alexander and Broehl, who are both listed as possible witnesses as the proceedings continue.

The trial is expected to last throughout the next few weeks and will continue on Tuesday, according to the attorneys and court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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