Lawyer: 2 oldest Gravelle kids, now 17 and 18, doing well

Date: 2010-07-26

By Cary Ashby

CLEVELAND The two oldest former adoptive children of Sharen and Michael Gravelle are doing well.

Sharen Gravelle, 18, is a freshman attending an out-of-state college, Cleveland attorney Jack Landskroner said. He is representing the young woman and her brother Michael, 17, in a Cuyahoga County lawsuit which seeks in excess of $25,000 in damages against the elder Gravelles, caseworkers and the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS).

When asked what Sharen's major is, Landskroner said: "I think she wants to help people. ... She may well want to help kids."

"She is a very, very bright young woman," Landskroner said.

"Michael has been adopted. ... He's doing better," said Landskroner, whose firm represents the 11 children removed from the elder Gravelles' custody in September 2005.

The boy lives locally.

"The progress they have made, given what happened, is going wonderfully," Landskroner said. "I can't emphasize enough how wonderful these two kids are."

Both older children testified against their former adoptive parents during the lengthy custody and criminal hearings in Huron County Juvenile and Common Pleas courts.

Michael E. Gravelle, 60, and Sharen M. Gravelle, 61, are serving two-year prison terms for their late 2006 convictions on multiple child abuse and child endangerment charges. Prison records indicate both defendants are scheduled to be released in April 2011.

Some of the couple's 11 adopted children were forced to sleep in cages, made from wooden bunk beds lined with chicken wire and doors that sounded alarms if they were opened without permission. Huron County sheriff's deputies and an investigator with the Huron County DJFS removed all the children from the Gravelles' custody in September 2005 following a search of their rural Wakeman home. The story, first reported by the Reflector, garnered international attention.

Local guardian ad litem David Brown, who was appointed by Huron County Probate Court, hired Landskroner about two years ago to investigate ongoing civil issues related to "injuries sustained" during the youngsters' time with the Gravelles, Landskroner said.

"There's a lot of trauma to overcome," he said. "There has been an ongoing investigation for civil (issues) for some time."

The younger Michael felt he had a responsibility to look out for his siblings, the attorney said, but was punished when he stood up for them. The boy testified he was forced to spend multiple days in the family bathroom and in his cage, at one point copying the book of Deuteronomy.

On the other hand, his sister sustained emotional abuse, Landskroner said.

In the lawsuit he filed Monday, Landskroner is arguing the Gravelles were unfit parents and officials never should have allowed them to take custody of the children.

He clarified his point Thursday, saying the couple, caseworkers and DJFS "failed to protect" the children and didn't "follow safety rules in place" to protect the youngsters from being in abusive placements. The attorney said the Gravelles "labeled" all the children in their custody as having special needs so they could get money from area welfare agencies.

"Basically, the Gravelle home screamed of dysfunction. Child after child got dumped there," Landskroner said.

The Hamilton County DJFS "blatantly ignored the safety rules," he stressed. "You'd have to be blind and dumb not to use that information" when placing children.

"This is what the whole case is about," Landskroner said.

While the two older natural siblings aren't "over it," he said, both young people are improving.

"They have a right to justice," the attorney said.

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