Family friend says she reported mistreatment

Date: 2005-09-16

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

Laurie Oney, of SR 18, lives within a mile of the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, who last week had their adopted children removed from their home by the Huron County Sheriff's Office.

No charges have been filed against the Gravelles.

Oney said she and her husband provided Michael Gravelle with a place to live in 2001 when he and his wife were having marital problems. The Oneys' address was listed in court documents as Michael Gravelle's residence in 2001.

Oney said she visited the Gravelle home, where she said she witnessed "things I didn't approve of."

Once while at the Gravelle home, Oney claimed, she witnessed the children being hit with broken-off broomsticks.

"They weren't little taps," she said. "(Sharen Gravelle) said, ÔYou don't understand. These measures are needed.'

"Nothing constituted that," said Oney of the "spankings."

Oney said she reported the incident to the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services in June 2001.

When contacted for comment at home last night by The Morning Journal, a person who answered the phone at the home of Erich Dumbeck, director of the Huron County DJFS, hung up without comment before the reporter was able to identify himself.

The Oneys haven't had much contact with the family since Michael Gravelle moved back into his home in 2002. She referred to Michael Gravelle as her husband's friend, but she said she didn't have much luck befriending Sharen Gravelle, who seemed standoffish.

Oney said she also reported what she felt was inappropriate treatment of another one of the children. Sharen Gravelle reportedly forced the teen to hang his dirty bed linens on the clothesline while she ridiculed him calling him a "pig" and "bed-wetter and worse," before the child went to school in the mornings, said Oney.

Oney said she reported the information to the Huron County DJFS in spring 2002.

"(Sharen Gravelle) got tired of cleaning up his bed linens," said Oney.

Oney believes the Gravelles "intended to do a good thing" through the adoptions of 11 children, but "somewhere it all went sour."

The Gravelles reportedly went to a local church in the past couple of years, where the women of the congregation reportedly offered assistance to Sharen Gravelle.

"She absolutely refused any outside help," said Oney. "She pulled those kids out of the church so fast it would make your head spin."

The Gravelle family built a church at their St. John Road home, where authorities believe the children attended, Dumbeck said earlier this week.

Oney is outraged by the allegations of the Gravelle children being made to sleep in cages or enclosed beds, she said.

"Enclosed beds don't have chicken wire," scoffed Oney of the Gravelles' attorney's statement earlier this week, which referred to the contraptions as "enclosures."

"They need to be held accountable," she said.

In court papers requesting a separation in March 2001, Sharen Gravelle said she wanted custody of their then eight young children because of "father's physical mistreatment of the children," according to reports from The Associated Press.

The 2001 domestic court filing at Huron County Common Pleas Court does not detail the abuse Sharen Gravelle alleged. The documents show she revealed the alleged mistreatment to a counselor.

The court ordered supervised visits for the husband with the children -- then aged about 7 months to 11 years -- on the weekends and every Wednesday evening. Sharen Gravelle claimed the couple was no longer compatible and that her husband was guilty of "extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty."

Michael Gravelle agreed that they were incompatible and should end their marriage but denied that he was cruel or neglectful. He said then that his wife received $4,265 a month in government adoption subsidies and disability payments for the children.

Michael Gravelle acknowledged that the couple had had problems for many years but said they had done their best to provide the children with a good home. "I dearly love them," he said in a filing dated April 18, 2001.

"I have done nothing wrong to the children in the house," he said.

The couple had reconciled by May and eventually adopted three more children. It's unknown if the agencies that placed those children reviewed the abuse allegations.

According to Huron County juvenile court records reviewed by The Associated Press, an adult daughter of the Gravelles, Lisa Gravelle, has asked the court to award her custody of her adopted siblings.

The Huron County DJFS will make a recommendation to juvenile court Judge Timothy Cardwell about whether she is suitable, said Christopher Mushett, the court's administrator.

No other information about Lisa Gravelle was in the documents, and there was no telephone listing for that name in Ohio.

Throughout the county yesterday, a photograph was being circulated of the purported contraptions that allegedly held the Gravelle children.

Leah Hunter, a neighbor to the Gravelles was appalled by the photo.

"I think the same thing as I thought before, it's terrible," she said.

Meanwhile, in Norwalk early yesterday, the Rent-A-Center, in the Apples Plaza off US 250, delivered two donated sets of bunk beds to a foster family who is caring for at least three of the Gravelle children who were removed from the home one week ago, according to Andy Spanos, store manager.

The family was scheduled to meet with media as the beds were delivered, however, the Department of Job and Family Services prohibited them from divulging their identity in order "to protect the safety and privacy of the children," said Spanos.

The center also donated a television to the family to provide accommodations for their emergency placements, said Spanos.

"Since it's an ongoing investigation, they want to protect the children," said Spanos of the authorities.

hrcfowler@aol.com

Morning Journal Writer Alex M. Parker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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