Salesman denies seeing abuse

Date: 2005-12-07

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

When insurance salesman Ed Clunk entered the Gravelles' 2330 St. John Road home in Clarksfield Township in August 2004, he said he didn't witness any abuse, according to Clunk's testimony in the first day of a custody hearing in Huron County Juvenile Court involving the Gravelles and their 11 adoptive children.

Instead, Clunk testified to seeing three small children sitting at a kitchen table coloring "like normal kids."

Returning to his home near Toledo, Clunk testified he told his fiancee about the enclosed beds because they were "a little different" than any other beds he'd ever seen in the thousands of homes he'd visited.

A year later, Clunk was visiting the Clarksfield area again and in passing mentioned the Gravelle children's sleeping quarters to a Gravelle neighbor, he testified.

"They had some weird sleeping arrangements to say the least is what I said as we were walking out to my car," said Clunk recalling the conversation he had with the woman.

"I said, they have this one little cage they keep a child in," he also said.

Under questioning from defense attorney Ken Myers, Clunk said, "I never filed a report."

He also said he was never told how it came about that representatives from the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services and the Huron County Sheriff's Office obtained his cellular telephone number to repeatedly call him in August and September 2005.

The 11 adopted Gravelle children, who the couple has said have physical and psychological problems, were removed from their home Sept. 9 by Huron County authorities, who said the children were sleeping in cages. The Gravelles said the enclosed beds were necessary to protect the children from harming themselves and others.

When Myers read an investigative report written by HCDJFS investigator Jo Johnson aloud in court, Clunk sat shaking his head and at times laughed softly.

"A lot of that is fictitious. I didn't say a lot of those things," Clunk said.

"When it said abuse, I didn't see any abuse in that house ever," Clunk said emphatically.

During testimony from Johnson, she told the court that the HCDJFS had received information in 2003 concerning the "cages," but an investigation was never launched.

Two HCDJFS officials visited the Gravelle home to discuss adoption subsidies and tried to see the "cages," but they "weren't allowed past the kitchen," she said.

"There was an allegation that there were cages in the home, but they had not been seen. ... An investigation had not been opened because the rumor had not been confirmed," Johnson said of why the agency failed to investigate the matter two years ago.

Yesterday, she described the enclosures as looking like kennels when she saw them in September.

Three witnesses testified yesterday, and the hearing is now expected to last as long as the rest of the week, said the judge. The prosecutor has 40 names on a list of potential witnesses.

The witnesses' testimonies took up more time than the court initially planned, said Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell.

Tomorrow, Myers said he intends to revisit the information that prompted the investigation as testimony continues in the morning with sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers.

"It's certainly interesting," Myers said after hearing Clunk's testimony. "I'm going to withhold judgment until I hear (Sommers') testimony tomorrow ... but tonight I'm going to research the statute concerning falsifying official documents. That is a felony in some circumstances."

Huron County Juvenile Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand refused comment on the matter.

Michael Gravelle said after the hearing he feels the proceedings have been fair so far. Sharen Gravelle refused comment. The couple doesn't know if they will testify. "It's up to him," Michael Gravelle said, referring Myers.

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