Criminal charges filed against a couple accused of forcing some of their 11 adopted children to sleep in cages are another obstacle in their quest to regain custody, their lawyer said.
Michael and Sharen Gravelle were indicted in a Norwalk court Tuesday on counts of child endangering, falsifying adoption applications and lying under oath when being qualified for adoption funding.
The Gravelles have denied mistreating the children, ages 1 to 15, who were placed in foster care last fall after a county social worker likened the wood and chicken-wire cages to kennels.
The couple have said the enclosures were necessary to keep the children from harming themselves or one another. The children have problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating nonfood items.
The couple's attorney, Ken Myers, said the pair was upset but determined to fight the charges.
"The Gravelles are good people and they were trying to do the right thing by raising these children and taking on an almost impossible task," Myers said.
Authorities mishandled the case, the attorney said.
"If they had come into the home and said 'There's a problem here, let's fix it, let's work together to make this better,' it would have been much better for the kids and much better for the community, instead of yanking these kids out of the home, putting them in different foster homes, and now bringing criminal indictments and putting these good people in jail," CBS Radio News (audio).
Elaine Thompson, a private social worker hired by the Gravelles, also faces several charges, including aiding and abetting child endangering.
Thompson testified during a custody hearing that she approved of the cages as a way to help handle the children. But she said she never asked the youngsters how they felt about the enclosures during her weekly counseling sessions.
Thompson's attorney, Marilu Laubenthal, said her client, who has worked with adopted children for 40 years, is devastated. "To end her career like this is just too much," she said.
Last month, prosecutors asked a judge to place the children in the permanent custody of the county. They were removed from the Gravelles' home in Wakeman, about 45 miles southwest of Cleveland, in September.
Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell set a Feb. 22 hearing to consider evidence in the custody issue. The Gravelles are scheduled to be arraigned on the criminal charges the same day. The custody case is separate from the criminal proceedings.
If convicted, the Gravelles could face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each of the 16 counts of felony child endangering.
Myers doesn't think that's likely, because the prosecution has a substantial burden of proof.
"I feel confident that the prosecution will not be able to meet that burden and the Gravelles will be acquitted," he said.
Thompson faces one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 if convicted of the felony charges of aiding and abetting child endangering.