CHICAGO — The estate of the 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy who was beaten to death and buried in a shallow grave this year has filed a lawsuit contending that two state child welfare workers ignored clear signs that the boy was being abused months before his death.
The federal lawsuit filed Wednesday asserts that Department of Child and Family Services worker Carlos Acosta and his supervisor, Andrew R. Polovin, either didn't investigate allegations that Andrew "AJ" Freund had been abused or found such allegations unfounded despite concerns about the boy raised by police and others.
The suit alleges multiple calls were made to the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline in 2017 and 2018 detailing AJ’s physical injuries and the conditions of the home where his family lived in Crystal Lake.
One of the calls was reported by a neighbor who thought the boy was dressed as a mummy for Halloween in 2017 but was told by his mother that he was wearing bandages because he had accidentally spilled boiling water on his head and face.
However, there was no record of that call in documents turned over by DCFS. Contrary to the agency’s procedure, the complaint said only two hotline calls were documented and investigated.
The suit claimed that DCFS workers conducted “sham investigations and filed reports which included falsified findings intended to justify their determinations that the allegations of abuse were ‘Unfounded.’”
In March 2018, a medical professional called the hotline after AJ’s mother was found passed out in a car following a drug overdose, according to the lawsuit. His father brought AJ and his younger brother to the hospital with their clothes inside out. They appeared dirty and neglected and AJ had odd bruising on his face. The DCFS specialist assigned to investigate the call was not named as a defendant, but the complaint says she did not actually see the boys until a month later after initially going to an old address, even though DCFS had regular contact with the family for years.
In December 2018, after a police officer made a hotline call and the boys were taken into temporary protective custody, AJ told an emergency room doctor examining a large bruise on his hip that “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
But the lawsuit says Acosta and Polovin “…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.”
In April, AJ's body was found buried near his family's Crystal Lake home. His parents, Andrew Freund and Joann Cunningham, were charged with first-degree murder in his death.
The child was born addicted to opioids and was in foster care living with a relative before his parents regained custody in 2015. He would have turned 6 years old, this week.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of his estate, which represents his siblings. If his parents are convicted, under state law they would be barred from claiming any monetary damages awarded from the suit.
DCFS had no comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesperson said Acosta and Polovin were placed on desk duty. The DCFS Office of the Inspector General continues to review the case and the department anticipates a number of recommendations from that report.