NAACP leaders say children's rights may have been violated

Date: 2005-09-15

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

"It just disturbs me if people appear to be treating children as animals and based on the news accounts, that's what I got," said Stanley Miller, director of the Cleveland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Anytime innocent children are victimized, it is of utmost concern to the NAACP. That is probably a gross violation of their civil rights because children who are underage and dependent, regardless of what their background or their physical or mental status is, they're children. And, they have a right and a space and deserve the dignity of correct care," said Sybil Edwards-McNabb, president of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP.

"There was a very inhumane act that happened," said Edwards-McNabb, referring to the allegations that the children slept in wood and wire enclosures that Huron County authorities described as cages. The children were adopted by Michael and Sharen Gravelle, according to authorities.

The NAACP is also critical of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services in regard to the four foster homes the children were placed in when they were removed from the Gravelle home Friday.

The four foster families met the children at Fisher-Titus Medical Center after general health examinations were performed, and they were pronounced healthy.

The children are all black and the foster parents are white. Job and Family Services has started instructing the foster parents as to the proper way to care for children of a different race, said HCJFS Director Erich Dumbeck.

"What benefit is it for them to put them in homes where people are not able or do not have the knowledge to care for them?" Edwards-McNabb said of not only the cultural difference, but also the medical training the homes would need.

The children have medical problems ranging from HIV to fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as autism and an eating disorder called PICA, according to a search warrant filed Friday in the Norwalk Municipal Court and Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler.

"They're (government-run children services groups) never restricted to one locale. If they cannot find proper housing or someone to take care of those children, there are always sister agencies or cities that do have the personnel or would have homes available," Edwards-McNabb said.

"To care for them is not only medical, it's also physical and includes their social skills. One of the most offensive things to me is to see a couple with a black child who has no knowledge of how to comb that child's hair," Edwards-McNabb said.

Meanwhile, Leffler met yesterday with Huron County sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers to further discuss and plan the investigation pending against the Gravelles, said Leffler.

Interviews are scheduled for Sommers and the children, while other deputies are assigned to interview neighbors living near the residence on St. John Road, Leffler said. Additionally, the sheriff's office will continue to investigate what agencies played a part in placing the children in the Gravelle home, Leffler said.

"There's no real timeline. ... There won't be anything before Monday," Leffler said of filing charges.

As far as photos taken by investigators of the "cages" in the home, Leffler said he won't release the digital photographs, at least until court proceedings are under way.

No charges have been brought against the Gravelles, and Leffler said he does not believe they have left the area.

Anyone with information that could assist the investigation of the family and the children is asked to call Leffler's office at (419) 668-8215 or the sheriff's office at (419) 663-2828, Leffler said.

hrcfowler@aol.com

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