Caged Kids' Mom Complained of Husband

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The adoptive mother of a group of children who were confined in cages at night accused her husband four years ago of being a danger to the family.

In court papers requesting a separation in March 2001, Sharen Gravelle (search) said she wanted custody of their then eight young children because of her husband's "physical mistreatment of the children."

The couple, who now have 11 adopted special needs children, eventually resolved their differences. Authorities, however, are making similar allegations.

This week, prosecutor Russell Leffler (search) filed 11 complaints of child abuse and neglect to authorize the placement of the children in foster care. No criminal charges have been filed.

A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 27, and a judge will decide if the children should be permanently removed from the home or returned.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle say they have done nothing wrong and that the wooden "enclosures" were meant to protect youngsters who set fires and injured each other.

The children, ages 1 to 14, have conditions that include autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and HIV (search). A 3-year-old has a disease called pica, described as an eating disorder in which children compulsively eat nonfood items such as dirt or rocks.

"Some of these children have eaten batteries, clothes, blankets, mattresses, wood, carpets, chemicals and anything they could obtain, which is why the kitchen cupboards are locked," said David Sherman, the couple's attorney.

The 2001 domestic court filing does not detail the abuse Sharen Gravelle alleged. The documents show she revealed the alleged mistreatment to a counselor.

Sharen Gravelle claimed the couple were no longer compatible and that her husband was guilty of "extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty." Michael Gravelle agreed that they were incompatible and should end their marriage but denied that he was cruel or neglectful.

He said then that his wife received $4,265 a month in government adoption subsidies and disability payments for the children.

Michael Gravelle acknowledged that the couple had had problems for many years but said they had done their best to provide the children with a good home.

"I dearly love them," he said in a filing dated April 18, 2001. "I have done nothing wrong to the children in the house."

The couple had reconciled by May and eventually adopted three more children. It's unknown if the agencies that placed those children reviewed the abuse allegations.

An adult daughter of the Gravelles has asked the court to award her custody of her adopted siblings, according to juvenile court records.