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Kids taken into foster care often end up in the State Penitentiary. They get separated from their parents at an early age, then bounce around in foster care for years. -- Former Children's Services Volunteer

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Gravelle Case Update

Protecting the Innocent Victims from Zealous State Workers

Updated January 20, 2006
by: Annette M. Hall

NORWALK, Ohio - On November 15, 2005 Huron County Judge Timothy Cardwell refused to return 11 special-needs children to their adoptive parents, keeping them in county custody pending a hearing scheduled for Dec. 6 due to allegations that the children were abused and neglected.

In a brief ruling Judge Cardwell said, "Based on the information submitted, the court finds the ... motion for Immediate Return of, or Extended Visitation with the Children to be not well taken."

County authorities removed the children from the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle on Sept. 9. The Gravelle's reside in Clarksfield Township. Some of the children, ages 1-14, were being kept in homemade wood-and-wire cages for their own safety.

Motion Filed

Attorney Kenneth Myers, representing the Gravelle's filed a motion this month seeking the return of the children or an increased visitation schedule for Mr. and Mrs. Gravelle. Since the youngsters were removed and placed in foster homes, Michael and Sharen have only been allowed to see the children every other week for one-hour under the supervision of child protective service caseworkers.

The judge has agreed to a request from the family to allow Mrs. Gravelle's mother; her adult daughter Lisa, and Mr. Myers to be included in the visitation sessions.

"Returning the children to the home, or allowing visitation to occur in the home that is the issue of the complaint, is not in the children's best interest," Ms. DeLand wrote.

Prosecutor DeLand Responds

Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand filed a response Monday in opposition to the motion filed by Attorney Myers' on behalf of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, which has been awarded temporary custody of the Gravelle's children.

"Among other things, the Father and Mother have not indicated any willingness to cease the use of the enclosures. Returning the children to the Gravelle home would put the children at risk for additional future harm."

Yet, the state has filed no criminal charges against the couple. The Gravelles deny ever harming the children and insist that the enclosures are needed to protect the children from harming themselves and each other.

Adoption in Jeopardy

The allegations made against the Gravelles may put their pending adoption of the youngest child in jeopardy. A nonprofit adoption agency, The Cradle Society, based in Evanston, Illinois, has filed a legal response in the juvenile division of Huron County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court, opposing the return of all the children to the Gravelles.

The Cradle Society is seeking to have Mercy Anne Gravelle, a 19-month-old girl, returned to Illinois and made a ward of Cook County, stating that Mercy requires supervised care because she may need surgery to correct unspecified birth abnormalities. Her adoption by the Gravelles has yet to be finalized. The child is currently being held in foster care in Huron County, OH.

County Workers Slacking Off Causes Delay

Though Margaret Kern, the children's guardian ad litem has sought discovery documents from the county, none have been forthcoming. Kern was forced to filed a motion stating that she could not take a position on the Gravelles' request for additional visition in the proceeding because she had never received the requested documents from county authorities.

Law Expert Comments

Robert R. Surgenor, of Family Defense Network of Ohio is a highly respected retired detective and noted parental rights law expert, commented on this highly unusally case.

Some very positive things have happened for the Gravelles, who have finally been portrayed by the media as loving, compassionate parents who adopted the children when nobody else would take them. They were caring for children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism, Reactive Attachment Disorder, HIV and Pica, an eating disorder that causes children to eat dirt and rocks and other problems few parents would tackle.

But out of this situation, the Department of Children's Services has seized the opportunity to try something I have feared for years they would attempt to do, change the child abuse laws in the state of Ohio.

Gravelles Committed No Crime

When our organization was contacted by Sharen Gravelle, we forwarded her a copy of the Ohio Revised Code pertaining to the restraint of children allowed under law. Section §2919.22, the "Endangering children." statute, states:

"No person shall do any of the following to a child under eighteen years of age... Administer corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure, or physically restrain the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period, which punishment, discipline, or restraint is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child."

We explained that what she was describing as unlocked "enclosures" certainly did not constitute child abuse under Ohio law.

The Gravelles have recently retained an excellent attorney, one that I became familiar with during my years on the police department. As you all probably know, the Gravelles have not yet been charged with any crime! It has been over two-months since their children were ripped from them by Children's Services.

Does anyone want to guess why they haven't been charged? Because they have not broken any laws, that's why! This is another excellent example of social workers jumping the gun and grabbing children from their parents without completely researching the law. These social workers had a court order, which means the judge didn't know the law or the real facts either!

Yesterday, the local Fox News station ran a special story on the Gravelles and their children. I am usually against talking with the media, but this time, Bill Sheil of the Fox 8 I-Team did an outstanding job exposing the truth in the Gravelle story. Sheil interviewed Elaine Thompson, a social worker who was on the Gravelle's side, and who has worked for forty years with troubled children.

Caseworker Supports Gravelle's

She clearly pointed out to Sheil that the enclosures portrayed by the media as "cages" were simply their "beds." Thompson stated the Gravelle's children, for once in their life, had parents who they could trust. The enclosures with battery powered alarms on the doors not only warned the parents when a child opened a door, the children actually felt safe with the alarms on their enclosures. They could sleep without worrying about a stranger getting at them during the night. The enclosures were never locked, so the children could escape during an emergency.

Social Worker Thompson stated that the Gravelle's adopted these children "at great personal sacrifice and with little assistance." She also stated that the removal of the children "further traumatized the children." But that wasn't the best part of the interview! Thompson went on to say, "It is not the Gravelles who have abused these children, it is Huron County!"

Folks, this social worker deserves a medal! She went on to say that the removal of the children by the social workers has destroyed all of the hard work the Gravelles have done with the children for the past seven years.

The children were finally beginning to trust someone to protect them. That trust has now been destroyed. But compounding the damage done by the DCFS, the prosecutor, Russ Leffler, commenting about Elaine Thompson's statements, said, "Some people don't know when to keep their mouth shut."

This sounds to me like a prosecutor who is not interested in the truth, but only in pursuing a case that probably has no merit.

DCFS Workers Say Law To Vague

Another disturbing thing about this case is what the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services had to say about it. Interviewed by the Fox News Network, the representative from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services stated that the current Ohio child abuse laws were too "vague."

Folks, I am considered an expert on Ohio child abuse laws by the courts. Ohio child abuse laws are some of the most precise, exact, child abuse laws in the country. The Department of Job and Family Services is wrong.

If he made that statement out of ignorance, then he needs to be educated. He went on to say that Ohio's child abuse laws need a major overhaul, and need to be revised to address situations like the Gravelle's. Folks, the law already does address the Gravelle situation, and the law says the family has done nothing wrong! I am afraid that this is the beginning of an effort by DCFS to make Ohio child abuse laws less "parent friendly" and more "social worker friendly."

We have to make sure that the Gravelles are not charged with a bogus crime that will force them to spend thousands of dollars for their defense and perhaps lose their children. Anyone who is interested in contacting the Huron County prosecutor or the director of the Huron County Job and Family Services, the telephone numbers and addresses are below. The contact information for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is also provided. There is strength in numbers, and I know from experience on the job that the public voice is an extremely important one.

Robert R. Surgenor Sr.
Retired Detective

Detective Surgenor has studied juvenile crime extensively, conducted seminars on juvenile crime, parental authority, and discipline.

Family Defense Network of Ohio

Huron County Job and Family Services
185 Shady Lane Drive
Norwalk, Ohio 44857
Phone: (800) 668-8126

Huron County Prosecutor's Office
Russ Leffler, prosecutor
12 E. Main Street
Norwalk, Ohio 44857
Phone: (419) 668-8215

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
Barbara Riley, Director
30 E. Broad Street, 32nd Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3414
Phone: (614) 466-6282
Fax: (614) 466-2815