County Seeks Custody Of Kids Kept In Cage Beds
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 25, 2006
NORWALK, OHIO--Huron County has asked a judge to grant it permanent custody of 11 siblings with disabilities, some of whom were forced to sleep in wire enclosures.
Last Wednesday, Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell held a hearing over Michael and Sharen Gravelle's request to regain custody of their adopted children, ranging in age from 1 to 15.
In what was considered a surprise move, Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand asked Cardwell to permanently revoke the couple's custody of the children, and to put an end to their current supervised visits.
Instead, Cardwell ordered the county to allow some of the children to have more frequent visits with the Gravelles. One boy, who had said he no longer wants to have contact with his parents, will not be forced to do so.
Cardwell said he would not decide on the children's permanent custody until after a hearing he set for February 22, when evidence on both sides would be presented.
The children were removed from the Gravelle home on September 9 after a social worker and sheriff's deputies searched the residence and found several wire and wood enclosures armed with electric alarms. They also found a strong smell of urine, no working smoke alarms on the second floor where the children slept, and the door to one bedroom that was blocked by a dresser.
The couple claimed that they built the enclosures in 2003 to keep the children -- who have developmental and other disabilities -- from hurting themselves or each other.
Last month, Cardwell determined that the Gravelles abused eight of the children by making them sleep in the wire and wood enclosures without pillows or mattresses. Cardwell said the children's disabilities, medical conditions and behavioral problems had become too difficult for the Gravelles to handle.
Cardwell had listened to testimony from several of the children, including one boy who testified that he and his siblings were sometimes sent into the chicken-wire enclosures as punishment, often for soiling or wetting their beds. The also recounted how he was forced to spend 81 days in the family's bathroom -- only being let out for some meals and to go to school -- as punishment for urinating in his wire "box".
Ken Myers, the Gravelles' attorney, told Cardwell his clients have taken the wire mesh and the alarms off of the beds so they now look more like regular bunk beds. He also said the couple would be willing to undergo psychological counseling if that would help them to regain custody of their children.
If the county were granted custody, the children would again be up for adoption.
Assistant Public Defender Douglas Clifford, who represents the children's interests, said: "It's going to take more than tearing down walls and cages to give these kids a safe home."
"Couple granted more visits with kids Custody hearing in Feb. in 'cages' case" (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
"Judge puts off his decision on custody matter" (Toledo Blade)