HSLDA: Man Who Kept Children in Cages “a Hero”

In my recent series on HSLDA and child abuse, I revealed that HSLDA has lobbied against bills banning excessive corporal punishment and in favor of cutting down on the ways child abuse tips may be made, but at the time I wrote that series I hadn’t found hard evidence of HSLDA defending and praising known child abusers. I now have that information.

It may make you sick to your stomach. It may make you feel the urge to vomit. It did all of that to me and more. But it also made me angry. Angry, because I found that HSLDA’s attorneys have looked in the face of child abusers and called them “good parents,” “loving parents,” even “heroes.” In this post I’m going to run through three cases, looking at at horrific acts of abuse and at HSLDA’s response to these cases. I’m going to try to run through this at a quick pace without getting too bogged down.

In 2005, homeschool parents Michael and Sharon Gravelle were accused of child abuse and their eleven adopted children were removed from their home. The Akron Beacon Journal reported HSLDA’s response:

Scott Somerville, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association in Virginia, said he talked with Michael Gravelle before the story broke in the media, and he believes this is a family trying to help special children.

When a social worker visited the house last week, there was no resistance to an inspection, said Somerville, whose organization represents home-schooling families on legal matters.

“They had nothing to hide,” Somerville said. “He told me why they adopted these children and told me the problems they were trying to solve.

“I think he is a hero.”

In other words, when faced with accusations of child abuse against Gary Gravelle, a homschooling father, HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville declared Gravelle “a hero.” Why? Presumably because of he had adopted special needs children. But what actually happened in the Gravelle home? Let’s take a look:

The Gravelles’ children told [Lt. Randy] Sommers of punishments including ”spankings with a board, name calling and being held under water,” Sommers said.

One boy said he had ”his face shoved against a bathroom wall until his nose bled,” Sommers testified.

The sleeping arrangements for some of the children were homemade enclosures made with wood and chicken wire that had alarms on the doors. County authorities call the enclosures ”cages,” while the Gravelles say they were enclosed beds used to protect the children.

The children would soil their beds rather than open the door and go to the bathroom because they did not want to trigger the alarm, they also told the investigator. Another boy told the detective he was forced to write ”in long hand” a book out of the Bible before he was allowed out of his enclosed bed, Sommers testified.

When asked whether he believed the children’s accounts, Sommers said he did because many of the stories were repeated by more than one child.

“I think he is a hero,” HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville said of a man who kept his adopted children in cages and punished them by holding their heads under water in the toilet. Oh, and guess what? It turns out that Michael Gravelle had previously sexually abused his biological daughter. “Hero” indeed.

Okay, next case. In 1992 six year old Hannah Carrol, an adopted child with Down syndrome, died of horrific burns caused by bleach.

Six-year-old Hannah Carroll raised her left arm “in a protective position” to try to stop bleach from getting poured on her – and then suffered horribly after it was allowed to soak into her skin for at least an hour, an expert testified Thursday.

That testimony directly conflicts with her Cedarville family’s account of the incident – which experts called “incredulous” and “impossible.” Family members have said Hannah poured the bleach on herself, got immediate attention for the accident, and acted normally until her death three days later. Presented in the third day of a Greene County coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Hannah and three fellow adopted siblings, the testimony by a nationally recognized authority on burns compelled two top county officials to consider further action.

Dr. Glenn Donald Warden, chief of staff of Shriners Burns Institute in Cincinnati since 1985, said photos, medical reports and his own experiments contradict the family’s account. A man whose credentials fill 44 pages, Warden “is probably the country’s foremost burns expert,” Schenck said.

He said the Carroll family had to know Hannah needed medical treatment. In his 23 years in working with burns, Warden said he’d never seen a case as bad as Hannah’s go untreated. She suffered second-degree burns over 27 percent of her body, and to the cornea of her left eye.

“Burns are painful. They’re probably the most painful injury we can sustain,” he said. “Compounded by the burned eye, the child’s pain had to be “almost incomprehensible,” Warden said.

Her injuries were life-threatening but she could’ve been saved if treated. Hannah died from burn shock – something that happens as a result of the body’s own defense mechanisms.

Fluids rush to the burned areas, leaving little fluid in other parts of the body. As a result, the body shuts down the digestive system and next causes the kidneys to fail in order to allow continued nourishment of the brain and heart, Warden explained.

Autopsy reports show Hannah was extremely dehydrated and her kidneys were failing. Given these facts, he said, there’s no way the child could’ve been acting normally, as the family said.

The autopsy report notes her entire digestive and waste tracts were empty – which would take about 24 hours without food, other witnesses said.

The burn was so serious that it would’ve required skin grafting “on the entire front of her chest” and Warden said a burn that serious couldn’t possibly have been caused by exposure to bleach for only about five minutes, as family members stated.

Once investigations were launched into Hannah’s death, it came out that three more of Timothy and Kathleen Carroll’s ten adopted special needs children had died under suspicious circumstances, all within nine months of Hannah’s death. Several months into the investigation, one of those additional deaths was definitively ruled a homicide—as was Hannah’s death. The Carrolls never admitted to killing the children, but they ultimately plead guilty to child neglect for not seeking life-saving medical treatment for Hannah.

In 1995, Isaiah and Samuel, two of the Carrolls’ special needs adopted children, who had been in foster care since Hannah’s death two years before, were returned to the Carrolls on the condition that they be subject to increased monitoring. A battle immediately began over whether or not the Carrolls should be allowed to homeschool their children. As the local newspaper put it: “The Carrolls have insisted on educating their own children, Mrs. Carroll said, because they can provide for the children’s spiritual needs and a nurturing environment.” When a judge ruled that the Carrolls must send the children to public school, HSLDA took the case, defending the Carrolls’ right to homeschool. Here is how HSLDA described the case to its members (Home School Court Report, Vol. 11 No. 4):

Tim and Kathleen Carroll are a loving Christian couple who have adopted 10 special needs children over the course of their marriage. As a result of the unfortunate death of 4 of these severely handicapped children, the Carrolls have faced criminal prosecution and children’s services intervention for the last three years. Though their oldest child, a 19-year-old, is not permitted to live at home, the custody of all of their minor children has been returned to them. The only issue remaining to be decided is whether Mr. and Mrs. Carroll may be permitted to home school a 12-year-old child with cerebral palsy and a 7-year-old child with Down’s syndrome.

In a surprising ruling, the court held that the best interest of the children include public schooling for Isaiah and Samuel. The court explained its decision by saying, “If these children were children without the special problems facing them, the Carrolls would have the constitutional and statutory right to home school them as they are doing with Hosea.” This abuse of discretion and violation of the parent’s fundamental rights to give their children a Christian education has been appealed to the Ohio Court of Appeals.

Even if they did not intentionally burn their daughter Hannah to death with bleach, even if it actually was an accident (which seems highly doubtful given the facts of the case), the Carrolls still refused to seek medical care for her as she lay in searing pain with horrific burns covering 27% of her body, including one of eyes. They waited and did nothing as she stopped eating and her organs began shutting down one by one. This all they admitted to. And yet, HSLDA termed them “a loving Christian couple” who had suffered the “unfortunate death” of four of their children. In the end, HSLDA won the case, and the Carrolls were allowed to homeschool Samuel and Isaiah.

Okay, deep breath. One more. In 2010 Child Protective Services removed five homeschooled children, several of whom were adopted, from their parents, John and Carolyn Jackson. We first look at a 2011 World Net Daily article on the case, titled “Father: ‘My Children Are Being Held Hostage.’”

It’s every parent’s nightmare.

Army Major John Jackson and his wife Carolyn, devout Christian homeschoolers with a history of serving as adoptive and foster parents, had their five children taken away in April 2010 by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services – and despite the collapse of the evidence against the Jacksons, DYFS hasn’t returned the children to their parents.

During the course of a nine-month legal battle to regain custody of their children, the Jacksons say they have encountered prejudice against their religion and homeschooling as they fight a state agency determined to see the children adopted by strangers no matter what the evidence says.

“They’ve got all my children,” John Jackson lamented. “My children are being held hostage. They’ve been kidnapped.

“They’re not accountable to anyone,” Jackson told WND. “They told us they do not lose cases, and they will substantiate the abuse. This has not been an objective investigation in the first place. They want to adopt the children out, because they get money for adopting children out.”

A DYFS spokesman refused to comment on the case, citing “strict confidentiality laws.”

“This is a good, Christian homeschooled family. They’re being persecuted,” said the Jacksons’ lawyer, Grace T. Meyer, a New Jersey attorney affiliated with the Home School Legal Defense Association. “They’re homeschooled and they don’t fit the pattern for most DYFS cases. Most cases involve parents who are on drugs or in jail … in these cases you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

While the above article was not written by HSLDA and the Jackson parents were not officially represented by HSLDA, the Jacksons hired an HSLDA-affiliated attorney to defend them, an attorney who began her defense by arguing that the case was an example of the persecution of Christian homeschoolers. It is only recently that the extent of the abuse that went on in the Jackson family has been released to the media.

A U.S. Army major and his wife allegedly punished their adopted children with such “unimaginable cruelty” that it might not even fly in “Full Metal Jacket.”

Maj. John E. Jackson, 37, and Carolyn Jackson, 35, force-fed their three adopted children hot sauce and red pepper flakes, broke their bones, refused them medical attention and deprived them of water, said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

At least one child was so thirsty that he attempted to drink from a toilet bowl but the Jacksons ordered one of their three biological children to stand guard over the bathroom to stop this, court documents said.

“The crimes alleged should not happen to any child, anywhere, and it is deeply disturbing that they would happen on a military installation,” Fishman said.

The abuse occurred while the family lived at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, N.J., from 2005 until 2010, The Star-Ledger reported. One of the adopted children died in May 2008.

If that is a “good, Christian homeschooled family,” the fewer we have of those the better. What is becoming more and more evident is that HSLDA has a track record of denying abuse and believing abusive parents’ wheedling explanations over the accusations, words, and conditions of their children.

It becomes increasingly clear that HSLDA doesn’t care a flying fig about children. All HSLDA cares about is the organization’s beloved idol, “parental rights.” In HSLDA’s world, Michael Gravelle is a hero, Timothy and Kathleen Carroll are a loving Christian couple, and John and Carolyn Jackson are good, Christian homeschool parents. In the real world, we see them for what they are: child abusers.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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