Gravelles indicted on 30 counts

Date: 2006-02-15

NORWALK -- Michael and Sharen Gravelle and their private social worker were indicted with at least 30 counts each by the Huron County grand jury in connection with the treatment of the couple's 11 adopted children.

The grand jury met in a special session Feb. 3 and handed up 16 felony counts of child endangering, eight counts misdemeanor child endangering, five counts of falsification and one count of perjury for each of the Gravelles, according to court records.

Social worker Elaine Thompson was indicted on 16 counts of felony complicity to child endangering, eight counts of complicity to misdemeanor child endangering and eight counts of failure to report child abuse or neglect, according to court records.

"It's upsetting no matter how much you emotionally prepare for something like this. It's still a shock. The number of charges is a shock. The Gravelles are very upset that Elaine Thompson was indicted," said Ken Myers, the Gravelles' attorney.

"Obviously, this is an attempt on the county's part to make sure the Gravelles don't get their children back," he said.

"That's ridiculous," said Marilu Laubenthal, attorney for Thompson, about the number of charges yesterday. "This appears to be overkill on the county's part."

Laubenthal said her client "is devastated."

"I just think it's a travesty," she said. "That's all I can say."

Some of the child endangering charges are duplicates, according to Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler, and represent "alternative theories" on the abuse allegations.

The first eight counts of child endangering accuse the Gravelles of administering corporal punishment or restraint in an excessive manner or for a prolonged period of time, according to the indictment.

The second set of eight child endangering counts allege the couple "repeatedly administered unwarranted disciplinary measures to the children when there is a substantial risk that such conduct, if continued, will seriously impair or retard the child's mental health or development," the indictment said.

The charges focus around nine to 10 of the couple's 11 adopted children. The children were removed from the Gravelles' 2330 St. John Road home in Clarksfield Township on Sept. 9, Leffler said.

During an investigation conducted by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services and the Huron County Sheriff's Office, eight enclosed beds were discovered that the children were being made to sleep in, said county officials.

The children also were apparently serving punishments in the beds, which was deemed abuse late last year by Huron County Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell. Court proceedings in the juvenile court are scheduled to continue on Feb. 22, according to court records.

The prosecutor's office is trying to stop visitations between the couple and the children and get permanent custody of the youngsters remanded to JFS.

The juvenile court heard testimony from Thompson during the hearing last year about therapy sessions at the Gravelles' home with the children. Thompson was aware of the condition and treatment of the children but didn't include some information in reports sent to the county, according to her testimony and Leffler.

"I think the grand jurors felt it was particularly egregious because (Thompson) is a professional and should have known better," Leffler said.

The indictments against the Gravelles concerning falsification are in relation "to adoption applications and procurement of funds," according to a press release from the prosecutor's office.

The perjury charge stems from allegations the couple was "lying under oath with regards to the initial home study which qualified them for adoption and subsidy funding," according to the prosecutor's statement.

The indictment said the initial home study took place from Sept. 4, 1996, through Nov. 17, 1997. Leffler wouldn't release further details about the allegations, saying the facts will be presented in court.

"The Gravelles will vigorously contest the charges," Myers said.

Arraignments are scheduled for Feb. 22 for the Gravelles and on Feb. 28 for Thompson, according to court records. Laubenthal said she expects the court to set a signature bond for Thompson.

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