McHenry County board member named in AJ Freund lawsuit

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

District 5 County Board member Carlos Acosta is named in a lawsuit for his handling of the AJ Freund case, while an employee of DCFS. (Photo courtesy of McHenry County government)

A complaint against two Illinois Department of Child and Family Services workers directly involved with overseeing the case of deceased 5-year-old AJ Freund was filed Oct. 16 in the Chicago Northern District Federal Court.

The civil lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages in citing numerous instances of negligence, violation of the child’s civil rights, and “sham investigations” into the conditions at the Freund residence.

The lawsuit names McHenry County Board District 5 Representative Carlos Acosta, in his capacity as a child protection specialist, and his supervisor, Andrew Polovin, while itemizing “hotline” phone calls made by police officers and residents alerting DCFS of potential physical abuse to the boy that went unheeded until escalated, along with making false statements in their records. Acosta was elected in November, largely running on his experience as a “social worker.”

The Chicago-based firm of Meyers & Flowers LLC filed the complaint on behalf of the State Bank of Geneva, which handles the AJ Freund Estate consisting of three beneficiaries.

AJ Freund was found buried in a shallow grave April 24, near a rural Woodstock service road, after his father, Andrew Freund, allegedly confessed to the sequence of events when confronted with forensic evidence. He, along with his wife, JoAnn Cunningham, are charged with first degree murder and additional counts in his April 15 death when they made him stand in a cold shower for an “extended period” after soiling himself, and beat him.

The child died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to the county coroner’s report, and was placed in a garbage container, while the parents reported him missing April 18. Investigators quickly determined the child did not leave the residence on foot, as a K-9 detected no scent.

The Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act mandates that DCFS “shall, upon receiving reports … protect the health, safety, and best interests of the child in all situations in which the child is vulnerable to child abuse or neglect, offer protective services in order to prevent any further harm to the child and to other children in the same environment or family,” according to the court documents.

According to the complaint, “In 2017 and 2018, police officers, medical personnel and AJ’s neighbors made numerous calls to DCFS’ Child Abuse Hotline detailing not only AJ’s observable physical injuries, but also the appalling condition of his home at 94 Dole Ave., Crystal Lake, Illinois which he shared with his younger brother, Parker. Inexplicably and contrary to DCFS Procedures, only two of the numerous 2017-2018 Hotline Calls were documented and investigated.

“In response … the assigned DCFS Child Protection Specialists conducted sham investigations and filed reports which included falsified findings intended to justify their determinations that the allegations of abuse were ‘Unfounded.’”

One such call made Dec. 18, 2018 brought Acosta to the Crystal Lake police station, where AJ told him a large bruise was caused by a dog pawing. Despite a police officer disputing the injury as inconsistent with the circumstance, “within an hour” the child and his younger brother, Parker, were released from protective custody to Cunningham with orders to drive to the hospital.

According to the complaint, AJ then admitted to the emergency room doctor that the bruise was caused by the mother striking him with a belt. The information was relayed to Acosta, who allegedly falsified the Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol and “indicated that AJ’s bruise was caused by a dog and that no safety threats endangered AJ, which would warrant taking AJ into protective custody or even warrant the establishment of a family safety plan which would allow DCFS to monitor the situation.”

The 36-page complaint further alleges, “Defendants Acosta and Polovin, ignoring DCFS Procedures and the Prime Directive of ANCRA, returned AJ right back into the claws of his abusers, who were further emboldened by the Defendants’ indifference to gear up their infliction of horrific physical and mental abuse and torture, culminating in AJ’s murder on April 15, 2019.”

Acosta was identified as one of the DCFS workers last June. He and Polovin are on paid administrative duty, pending the outcome of an internal DCFS investigation. A DCFS timeline of events issued April 28 lists their involvement from AJ’s Oct. 14, 2013 birth, when opioids were found in his system, through various home visits including the dubious report entries, and death.

State Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills), whose district encompasses part of the county, said, “This is extremely shamefull … he (Acosta) should resign his county board seat immediately.”

His would-be sixth birthday was celebrated Oct. 14 with toys and balloons laid outside of the now-boarded residence, by a large crowd honoring his memory.

The house itself has been the subject of litigation. An Oct. 9 decision by McHenry County Associate Judge Kevin Costello will hold off a city of Crystal Lake court initiative to demolish the residence. Citing multiple code violations and deteriorated state, the next hearing is Nov. 27, allowing Freund Sr. and Cunningham time for a response. Both remain incarcerated.

In a separate court case, investor William Progar, who holds the residence’s mortgage, was given a Nov. 21 date to conduct a foreclosure sale of the property. A final outcome for both cases, and all parties, has yet to be determined.