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Officials testify about treatment of caged kids

A couple accused of keeping 11 adopted special needs children in cages spanked them with a board if they escaped and forced at least one to live in a bathroom,  according to testimony Wednesday.
Sharon and Michael Gravelle speak to reporters on Wednesday about allegations that they caged 11 special needs children they adopted and spanked them when they tried to escape.Tony Dejak / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A couple accused of keeping 11 adopted special needs children in cages spanked them with a board if they got out and forced at least one to live in a bathroom for urinating in his enclosure, an investigator testified Wednesday.

One boy said he had to live in the bathroom for about three months, sleeping in the bathtub, as punishment for going to the bathroom in his cage, Huron County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Sommers said during a custody hearing.

Sommers said two children told him about punishments of being shoved or being held under water. In another incident he said a child told of “having his face shoved against a bathroom wall until his nose bled.”

The testimony came in an effort by the parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, to regain custody of the children, ages 1 to 14. The youngsters have health and behavioral problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and pica, a disorder in which children eat dirt.

Child-welfare workers had heard rumors that the couple kept some of the children in cages two years before the youngsters were removed from the home, said Jo Ellen Johnson, an investigator for the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, in testimony Tuesday.

‘Piled one on top of another’
Officials tried to follow up on the rumors in 2003, but the Gravelles would not cooperate and a full investigation was never conducted. The children were finally taken from the Gravelles in September after Johnson visited the home and examined the chicken-wire cages.

“They were piled one on top of another. It looked like a kennel,” Johnson said.

The Gravelles have not been charged. They say they built enclosures with alarms where the children could sleep for their own protection.

Judge Timothy Cardwell will determine whether the children were abused or neglected. If the allegations are not proved, the Gravelles, who live near rural Wakeman, could regain custody.

Sommers said the boy who had to live in the bathroom was allowed out only for meals. “He just sat and watched everybody outside playing,” Sommers said.

Another time, the boy was punished for taking peanut butter from the kitchen, Sommers said. He was kept in his cage until he copied the book of Deuteronomy from the Bible in long hand, he said.

The Gravelles’ attorney, Kenneth Myers, repeatedly criticized Johnson’s reports and questioned why the county suddenly had to remove the children from the home two years after hearing about the cages.

Myers said lying and being deceptive are part of the condition of some of the children.

Psychologists who evaluated the children were to testify later in the hearing. Myers would not say whether the Gravelles will testify.