CLEVELAND (CN) – Two teen-agers say their foster parents locked them and nine other children in cages for long periods, alleging further that county officials should have known it. The parents made $100,000 a year as foster parents — the father quit his job, saying, “These kids pay well” — while they locked one boy in a cage for 30 days “around the clock” and made him stay in a bathroom for 81 days, according to the complaint.
The teens, who are now 17 and 18 say that Michael and Sharen Gravelle forced them to sleep in small cages with door alarms so they could not escape. The boy’s cage was “2½ feet tall by 3 feet long, resembling a dog cage,” and he had to sleep curled up with no mattress and no pillows, he says.
The 26-page complaint in Cuyahoga County Court contains a litany of gross abuses. They say the Gravelles flushed a sibling’s head in the toilet after they caught the child, who has Down syndrome, drinking toilet water. They allegedly did the same thing to another child, who wet the bed.
They say that the Gravelles took kids outside to hose them down in the middle of winter for “urinating or defecating in their cages.”
The Gravelles hit the children, and the boy says he was forced to stay in a cage for 30 days “around the clock” as punishment for taking peanut butter, bread and a knife from the kitchen. He says he was locked in a bathroom for 81 days straight and was allowed out only when other kids used the bathroom. This was his “punishment for urinating in his cage.”
The children say they were denied food, and when investigators finally arrived, they described the cages as “kennels smelling of urine.”
Before adopting the children, Michael Gravelle sexually abused his own daughter, according to the complaint. It adds that the Gravelles kicked all of their biological children out of their home, and that the “disturbing relationships” the Gravelles had with their own children was documented in public records.
The teens say the placement agencies and county workers should have known the Gravelles were unfit to adopt children.
Defendant Adopt America’s “home study” on Michael and Sharen Gravelle was “woefully inadequate and grossly negligent,” and the agency ignored signs that the children were abused and neglected, the complaint states.
Defendant Elaine Thompson, a social worker that the Gravelles consulted because they could not handle the children, documented the cages in the Gravelles’ home but did not report it, the children say.
The Gravelles were allowed to adopt 11 children, many of them with special needs. The kids say that their “actions were transparently typical of the unsavory practice of ‘mega families’ that are found throughout the country involving persons who live off the money received from adoption subsidies.”
Michael Gravelle quit his job and in 2003 had an income of more than $100,000 from the adoptions, according to the complaint, which adds that he was heard to say, “These kids pay well.”
Hamilton County officials, Fairhaven Counseling, Dr. Collin Myers, Adopt America Network and social worker Elaine Thompson of Associates in Adoptive/Foster Family Psychotherapy “abandoned the children … and failed to protect them from terrible, unthinkable harm” at the hands of their adoptive parents, the complaint states. They and the Gravelles are accused of negligence, reckless misconduct, civil rights violations and intentional torts. The teens seek at least $50,000 per count in compensatory and punitive damages.
The Gravelles began adopting in 1996 and their adopted children were removed from the home in 2005, according to the complaint. Michael and Sharen Gravelle were convicted of child abuse and began serving 2-year prison sentences in April this year.
The kids’ lead counsel is Jack Landskroner with Landskroner Grieco Madden.