The attorney for a couple convicted of abusing their 11 adopted special-needs children says it's time for Huron County Job and Family Services to be held accountable for its role in the case.
Michael and Sharen Gravelle filed suit against the department Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio. The suit also names the Huron County commissioners, sheriff's office, and Job and Family Services employees Jo Johnson and Randy Sommers.
The suit claims the department falsified information about the living conditions of the Gravelles' children to obtain a search warrant and seized the children without obtaining a second warrant to do so.
Gravelle attorney Ken Myers said Thursday the two offenses violated his clients' constitutional rights to due process and protection from illegal search and seizure.
Myers said as a result of the county's illegal activity, his clients have lost their children, lost their freedom and have been unfairly labeled in the media as child abusers.
"The Gravelles have certainly been held accountable for their role in this issue," Myers said. "Now it's time for the county to be held accountable ... As Judge (Earl) McGimpsey said in the criminal case, there's enough blame here to go around."
Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler, who represents Job and Family Services, said the lawsuit is "chutzpah," and the Gravelles' attorney has made the same claims before.
"He raised that in the criminal case, and Judge McGimpsey ruled there was enough evidence to prove abuse," Leffler said. "And no matter what, the officers had a right to go in and seize the children. I doubt he's going to have much luck with that."
The lawsuit claims Job and Family Services employees misled a judge to believe the "enclosures" in which some children slept were smaller than their actual size to emphasize them as "cages."
He also pointed out the department knew about the so-called cages at least two years before, but didn't believe then that the Gravelle children were being abused.
Leffler agreed the department should have done more to protect the Gravelle children.
"I made that very clear that I wasn't happy with a lot of things during the trial, but the Gravelles aren't the ones to complain about it," he said.
The Gravelles are already appealing both their 2006 criminal convictions and the Huron County juvenile court ruling, which revoked their parental rights.
Myers said this new lawsuit cannot restore the Gravelles' parental rights, but it does seek monetary damages for their strife.
"We were kind of hoping all the other litigation would've been done by now," he said, "but it wasn't, and we were running into a statute of limitations issue."
The Gravelle children were seized Sept. 9, 2005, and the statute of limitations only gives the couple about two years to file suit, Myers said.
Leffler said Huron County Job and Family Services insurance lawyers, not Leffler, would handle any civil lawsuit against the department.
Huron County Job and Family Services Director Lowell Etzler was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Michael and Sharon Gravelle were each convicted in 2006 of four felony child endangerment counts, five counts of child abuse, and two misdemeanor child endangerment counts.
They were sentenced Feb. 12 to two years in prison, but remain free on appeals bonds.
They are waiting on a reply from the U.S. Supreme Court as to whether or not it will hear the juvenile court case regarding their parental rights.
The Ohio State Court of Appeals must decide whether to dismiss the Gravelles' criminal conviction.