NORWALK, Ohio – A boy whose parents are accused of making their special-needs adopted children sleep in cages testified Thursday that the couple forced him to live in the bathroom as punishment for urinating in his enclosed bed.
On another occasion, Sharen and Michael Gravelle forced him to stay in his "box" for up to two weeks, the school-age boy said at the Juvenile Court custody hearing.
"I couldn't come out of my room until I wrote the whole book of Deuteronomy," he said. "I was up there for like a month."
The boy said he has grown tired of his box.
"Do you want to go back to live with the Gravelles?" prosecutor Jennifer DeLand asked.
"I don't know," he replied.
The Gravelles are trying to regain custody of the 11 children, ages 1 to 15, who have problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV and a disorder in which children eat dirt.
The Gravelles were accused of making most of them sleep in cages but have not been charged with any crime. The parents say the enclosures with alarms were meant to protect youngsters with behavioral problems.
Sharen Gravelle shook her head "no" frequently during his testimony and has said the children have lied to investigators.
Under cross-examination from the Gravelles' attorney, Kenneth Myers, the boy testified that he didn't know whether he loved his parents but "I like them. They're good parents."
The boy admitted lying often when he was younger and being violent and abusive toward his siblings.
In earlier testimony, the boy said most of his brothers and sisters slept on wood with blankets but no pillows or mattresses in the cages.
One girl's head was shoved in a toilet by a parent because she was drinking water out of it, and another had her head pushed into a toilet because she urinated in bed, the boy said.
The boy testified that he had to sleep in the bathroom for nearly three months because he wet his bed at night.
"Another time, I spent a good portion of my life in there," he said. "If I was really good, I'd get to come out for an hour."
The children were removed from the home in September, after a child-services investigator visited the home and examined the chicken-wire cages. In testimony this week, the county investigator, Jo Ellen Johnson, compared the home to a kennel.
Judge Timothy Cardwell will determine whether the children were abused or neglected. If the allegations are not proved, the Gravelles could regain custody.
The boy who testified Thursday did not look at his parents when he entered the courtroom but smiled slightly when DeLand asked him to point to them.
The boy testified that the children would set off a shrill alarm when they opened an enclosure door at night. They were let out when their parents were ready for them in the morning, he said.
He described various punishments for wetting the bed. "We'd have to go upstairs and scrub it. The younger ones would get spanked. We would have to go pull a bucket of weeds," he said.
When he wet the bed, the boy said, he often had to stand outside "just in my wet pajamas" until the other children were finished using the bathroom.