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October 24, 2014

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$2M settlement reached in Ohio caged kids case

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AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Michael and Sharen Gravelle walk through downtown Norwalk, Ohio, July 11, 2007.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Eleven children forced to sleep in cages by their adoptive parents reached a $2 million settlement with an Ohio county where three of them lived before they were placed in the home outfitted with wire and wood enclosures.

The agreement, which still needs a judge's approval, likely will bring a close to the series of lawsuits and financial settlements that came after the children were taken out of the home in 2005.

The adopted and foster children ranged in age from 1 to 14 when authorities removed them from their home near Norwalk. Their adoptive parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, spent two years in prison for abusing some of the children.

The Gravelles, who said they used the cages at their northern Ohio home to protect children they said acted up and were destructive, lost custody in 2006.

All 11 of the children were placed with foster parents. The oldest two are in college and have used the money from earlier settlements to pay for tuition, said Jack Landskroner, an attorney for the children.

The rest are doing well, Landskroner said, though some scars remain. The children were wrongly portrayed as troubled during the trial of the Gravelles, he said.

"These kids were good kids," Landskroner said. "It's amazing the positive results you see on children who are placed in a loving, caring home."

The settlements, he said, will allow them to move forward now.

There have been seven public and private financial settlements with counties and agencies that had a role in placing the children in the home and some of the professionals who were charged with their placement and overseeing their care.

The latest and final settlement was agreed upon last week when officials in Stark County, where three siblings lived before being placed with Gravelles, signed off on the $2 million payout, Landskroner said.

The county will pay $100,000 while the rest will come from its insurers.

County officials maintain they did nothing wrong. Stark County had assurances from another county where the Gravelles lived that they were fit to be adoptive parents and that the children would be monitored, said Ross Rhodes, who oversees the civil division of the Stark County prosecutor's office.

"With the benefit of hindsight, these children were placed in a very bad situation," Rhodes said.

Officials in Huron County, where the Gravelles lived, agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in 2010. Terms of the other settlements were confidential and not released.

The investigation into how the children ended up in the home led the state to increase oversight in cases of multiple special-needs children in one home.

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