Police: Children Forced To Sleep In Cages
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 15, 2005
WAKEMAN, OHIO--Eleven children with disabilities were removed last Friday from their home after authorities discovered several small, wire cages in which they believe the children were forced to sleep.
Huron County Job and Family Services officials followed up last week on a call from a man who claimed to have visited the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle during a sales call. The tipster said that he had seen a small girl in one of the cages.
Sheriffs investigators found nine cages averaging 3 1/2 feet long and 3 1/2 feet wide stacked in upstairs bedrooms.
"Imagine a dog kennel, only not stainless steel but wood," sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers said. "None was big enough for a child to stand in."
Each cage was built into a wall with a wooden frame made of 2 x 4s and covered with thick rabbit-cage wire. Some of the cages had mats but no blankets or pillows. Most were arranged in stacks of two.
While none of the cages were locked, each was rigged with an electronic sensor designed to notify the parents when the child got out of the cage. A dresser blocked the entrance to one cage.
"We found that the rabbit wire, the wire fencing, was pulled away from the interior of the frame of the cage and ripped," explained Sheriff Dick Sutherland. "It takes a lot of determination to rip that wire. It's pretty tough. It was on both ends of the cage, then there were boards nailed over the ripped areas."
"It looks very much as if someone inside was trying to get out," he said.
The children, all of whom were either adopted by the Gravelles or in foster care, ranged between age 1 and 15. They are described as "special needs" kids, having disabilities and medical conditions including autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and HIV/AIDS. By Monday, they had been dispersed in groups to foster homes.
Some of the children told authorities that they had slept in the cages for up to three years. Eight of the 11 Gravelle children are believed to have slept in the cages. Two older girls reportedly slept on small mattresses on the floor of one room, while an infant slept separately.
By Wednesday, the couple had been charged with various crimes, including abduction, unlawful restraint and child endangerment.
Neighbors told reporters that, while they thought the house was too small for such a large family, they never saw the children being mistreated. Some said the children usually appeared clean, well-fed, and well-dressed.
The Gravelles' attorney, David Sherman, defended his clients and blamed the children, saying in a statement that the couple kept the children in the cages at night for their own protection. The couple, who home-schooled the children, claimed that they built the "enclosures" at the recommendation of a child psychologist or social worker.
"The children have been out of control and have caused serious harm to themselves and each other," Sherman's statement read. "In order to prevent further injury, Mr. Gravelle constructed enclosures around their twin bunk beds to provide a secure space to keep them safe while the parents were asleep at night."
Huron County officials said they were not aware of the large number of children in the home, because the children were adopted through private agencies or other counties.
"Tipster noticed caged children in visit last year" (Toledo Blade)
"1st Pictures Of Cages; Released Parents: Social Worker Approved Of 'Enclosures'" (NewsNet5)
"Stronger safety net, not cages" (Cincinnati Enquirer)
"Screening said lax in disabled adoptions" (Akron Beacon Journal)
"Caged children normal outside" (Akron Beacon Journal)