Adopted child testifies at custody hearing

Date: 2005-12-09

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

The child testified that he went to the bathroom in his bed because he "did not want to open the door" of his enclosure, which had alarms. Opening the door meant waking everyone in the house and "I respect people sleeping so I didn't want to open the door," said the child.

The boy testified there was no way to notify his parents that he or his siblings had to use the bathroom or get a drink or snack. Meanwhile, the children's sleeping quarters were consistently without mattresses or pillows, except for one, the child said. When asked what he slept on, the boy replied, "wood."

The permanent custody hearing is before Huron County Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell, who will decided whether the 11 adopted special-needs children should be returned to the custody of the Gravelles or the state should retain custody of the children. The children were removed from the Gravelles' Clarksfield Township home Sept. 9 after county authorities said some of them were sleeping in homemade wooden and chicken wire "cages."

The Gravelles said the enclosed beds were for the protection of the children, because many of their children were diagnosed with RAD, along with other mental disorders such as pica, an eating disorder where nonfood items are consumed.

Eating in the house was an issue because the kitchen was locked and the children were accused of stealing if they got into the food, the child testified.

He said he was ordered to spend two weeks in his enclosure after taking a jar of peanut butter, bread and other food into his enclosure with him.

The child testified that he was also ordered to spend "81 days" living in the bathroom except for when he was at school or "really good" and was allowed out for an hour.

He also testified that Sharen and Michael Gravelle put children's heads in a toilet. One child's head was forced into the toilet because Sharen Gravelle had witnessed her drinking from it. "She said, ÔIf you want to drink this water, drink it' and flushed the toilet," the child testified.

He also said Michael Gravelle forced a sibling's head in a toilet and flushed it after the child soiled his bed.

Under questioning from the Gravelles' attorney, Ken Myers, the child said he felt safe at the Gravelles and that prior to living with them for seven years he'd been a foster child living in a variety of homes.

When asked if he'd like to return to the Gravelles' home, the child said he didn't know.

Also, a psychologist testified yesterday that he did not see signs of reactive attachment disorder in five of the children he examined.

William Benninger of Columbus is a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience and was hired by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services to do the examinations, he testified yesterday in Huron County Juvenile Court.

While Benninger ruled out the children having RAD or pica, he said they probably had disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and opposition defiance disorder.

None of the children told Benninger they liked their enclosed beds, he testified. In fact, Benninger told the court, at least three of them said they "hated" sleeping and being confined in the enclosures.

When asked if the "cages" were harmful to the children, Benninger said they likely caused harm and accentuated their behavioral issues.

During his testimony under questions from Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand, Benninger said RAD is an extremely rare disorder that includes a person displaying signs of being "markedly disturbed and developmental inappropriateness beginning before the age of five years."

All five children "were functioning at expected levels for their ages," testified Benninger.

Benninger said based on his observations and those of the foster parents and teachers of the children, none of the children showed any signs of pica either.

One child reportedly placed an item in his mouth but did not swallow it, which disqualified the action from a pica symptom, said Benninger.

As far as the younger children placing items in their mouths, Benninger said, that is a natural childhood action.

The court will likely continue the hearing through tomorrow and Saturday afternoon to accommodate the list of 40 witnesses called by the state.

Whether the Gravelles will testify remains unknown. A criminal investigation is pending against them, but no charges have been filed.

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