NORWALK, Ohio – Some of the special-needs children who slept in cage-like beds fitted with alarms had asked for the structures to be built, their adoptive mother testified at a custody hearing.
Sharen Gravelle testified Wednesday that she and her husband Michael built bunk beds and attached a wooden playhouse the family called a club house for some of the children's toys.
The other children then requested them and the couple felt the brightly painted beds enclosed with wood and wire helped keep them from getting into trouble at night, she said.
The couple have pleaded not guilty to several charges, including child endangerment, in a separate criminal case. The custody hearing was scheduled to resume Thursday.
Prosecutors accuse the couple of locking some of their 11 adopted children in cages to discipline them, and want Huron County to take permanent custody of them. The children have been in foster care since the enclosed beds were discovered last fall.
The Gravelles are fighting to regain custody. They deny abusing their adopted children, ages 1 to 15, and say the beds were necessary to protect the youngsters, who suffered from various psychological and behavioral problems.
Under questioning by her attorney, Ken Myers, Sharen Gravelle said that when the children became older they acted up more, including escaping from their regular beds in the middle of the night to fetch knives from the kitchen or to punch each other.
"They just didn't seem normal to me, I mean the behavior didn't and I didn't know what to do," she said.
The mother said she sought help from Huron County social workers and received none. So she did research on the Internet and found Elaine Thompson, an independent licensed social worker also charged in the case.
Gravelle said Thompson approved the beds and that at least one inspection for another adoption was done at the home in rural Wakeman about 60 miles west of Cleveland after the enclosures were built.
Huron County Juvenile Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand said the Gravelles have refused a court order to undergo psychological testing. She presented documents from the Gravelles' first adoption home study that she said proved the couple had lied about previous abuse allegations and investigations by a child protective agency in Lorain County, where they used to live.
Sharen Gravelle denied lying and said she had not seen the documents, although she acknowledged her and her husband's signatures were on the papers below a sworn statement that the information was true.
Sharen Gravelle said she met her husband in 1986 at a dinner for a child sex abuse support group. She said she was attending because a relative had been molested. Michael Gravelle was there because he was accused of inappropriate touching, a charge he denies. The couple married two months later.
The Gravelles are charged with child endangering, falsifying adoption applications and lying under oath when becoming qualified for adoption funding. If convicted, they would face one to five years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine for each of 16 counts of felony child endangering.