Director of Saving Teens At Risk in Cherokee County arrested on sex abuse charge

Phillip Wayne Gramling

A Cherokee County Juvenile Court counselor is charged with sexual abuse.Rainbow City police officers arrested 48-year-old Phillip Wayne Gramling on Thursday for one count of second degree sexual abuse.{} Police expect additional charges as the investigation is ongoing.Gramling is the director of Cherokee County's S.T.A.R. program, which stands for Saving Teens At Risk. It is for youths charged with delinquent offenses in Cherokee County Juvenile Court, and is designed to help them transition back into high school or G.E.D. classes.Chief Greg Carroll told ABC 33/40 on Friday that detectives interviewed several potential victims after receiving a call a week earlier from the James Barrie Center for Children in Gadsden.{} Counselors and specialists at the Barrie Center conduct forensic interviews with children in cases of suspected child abuse."A lady from the Barrie Center contacted us and said she had a case we might need to listen to," Rainbow City detective Jimmy Fazekas said."Basically thought there was enough on that interview to go forward on that case, a{}sexual abuse case."Investigators said Friday they were trying to determine if there are more victims, and asked that others come forward.Over the weekend, two more potential victims contacted Rainbow City police about past interactions with Gramling.{} Those young men{}live in Tennessee and will be coming to Etowah County for interviews."If anybody has any further information, in the past, that has known this man, or has had children stay there, or any contact with him, they need to call us or the DA's office," Fazekas said.Investigators believe Gramling used his position as a counselor to get access to troubled teenagers."He gained the kids trust.{} I feel like that's kind of the way he worked it," Chief Carroll said."I'd have to say it's probably like a feeding ground for some people that get in this position.{} It's wrong and it does away with any kind of trust that the public has with this type of office."Investigators described the community response to Gramling's arrest and alleged actions as "devastating."{} Fazekas said a lot of people trusted Gramling.{} He said Wednesday he received a lot of phone calls from people who are having a hard time with the news.Chief Carroll said during their investigation into other potential victims, detectives learned Gramling also served as a foster parent.{} They believe some of the foster children in Gramling's care were sexually abused at his home in Rainbow City and at a condominium in south Alabama."From what we understand in talking with some of them, at one point, the suspect did take some of the kids to Gulf Shores for a weekend stay there," Carroll said."These are children.{} These are our kids.{} These are our future," he said."When they can't trust the people trying to help them, then what good are we to this children?{} This guy right here, we feel, has violated their trust."Carroll said all the known victims are juvenile males.{} Investigators are not sure how long the abuse took place, but said it started several years ago.Rainbow City police hope to file additional charges soon."There's a good chance.{} We have a lot of investigation going on right now," Fazekas said."A lot of people are working with us, trying to get all the victims, so hopefully we'll get this thing solved as soon as possible."If you have any information, contact the Rainbow City Police Department at 256.442.2513, the Etowah County District Attorney's Office at 256.549.5362, or the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office at 256.927.5577.