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Psychologist defends enclosing kids’ beds


Psychologist defends enclosing kids’ beds

Friday, December 15, 2006
Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Norwalk — A psychologist testifying for Michael and Sharen Gravelle said on Thursday that the enclosed beds were appropriate for their adopted special-needs children.

“It can restrain their behavior,” Sandra McPherson testified. “It would be the least restrictive alternative.”

However, she said on cross-examination that the enclosed beds might have harmed the children if they were used for discipline.

“They could have been counterproductive to the development of the kids,” she said.

The Gravelles are on trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court, each charged with 16 counts of felony child endangering and eight misdemeanor child endangering charges. Prosecutors accuse the couple of keeping some of their 11 special-needs children in enclosed beds, which they have characterized as cages.

The couple said they enclosed some of the beds to protect the youngsters from their own destructive behavior. They have denied mistreating the children.

The Cleveland Heights psychologist criticized investigators and social workers who questioned the children after they were removed from the Gravelle home in September 2005. The children’s answers may have been tainted because the same questions were asked numerous times, McPherson said.

McPherson also said the agencies that placed the children in the home were to blame for the children’s problems.

“The outcome may have been different if they were placed in smaller families,“ she said.

The Gravelles’ private social worker, Elaine Thompson, was not called to testify because she awaits trial in February in connection with the case. She faces 32 charges of complicity to commit child endangering and failure to report abuse.

Thompson’s attorney, Marilu Laubenthal, spent about three hours reading a transcript of testimony given by Thompson during a custody hearing in December.

Thompson said the Gravelles explained that the enclosed beds were meant to provide a safe nighttime environment for the children.

The children’s behavior improved with use of the cages, Thompson said.

“It took about two years,” she said.

Common Pleas Judge Earl McGimpsey told jurors testimony will finish early today, and deliberations will begin on Tuesday.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

mpuente@plaind.com, 440-324-3773

© 2006 The Plain Dealer

2006 Dec 15