A Department of Children and Family Services employee has been placed on leave in connection with a 2018 investigation involving AJ Freund, said a source close to the situation.
Child Protection Specialist and McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta confirmed Wednesday that he has not been to the Woodstock DCFS office for work this week. Acosta declined to comment further on his employment status other than to say he had not been fired. He plans to speak with union representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees before confirming his employment status publicly.
Acosta, a veteran DCFS caseworker assigned to investigate AJ’s living situation, faces a federal wrongful death lawsuit that alleges he ignored signs of child abuse seen on AJ’s body and in the boy’s home in fall 2018. The suit claims that Acosta’s negligence and that of his supervisor, Andrew Polovin, led to AJ’s death in April.
The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, 36, of Crystal Lake, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder in the April death of her 5-year-old son.
His father, Andrew Freund Sr., 60, of Crystal Lake, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, issued a news release Wednesday stating that a representative of the Woodstock DCFS office confirmed to him that Acosta and Polovin had been placed on leave. Both men were placed on desk duty shortly after AJ’s death in April.
Reached by phone Wednesday, DCFS Chief of Communications Jassen Strokosch denied that DCFS had made any statement to Skillicorn and declined to comment about either man’s employment status.
Polovin did not respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Acosta has been with DCFS for about 25 years. He and Polovin were placed on desk duty shortly after police said Freund led them to a makeshift grave in a wooded area where AJ’s body was buried. Another former agency employee, Kathleen Gold, also was placed on desk duty and retired Oct. 28, Strokosch confirmed.
Both Acosta and an emergency room doctor were unable to pinpoint how AJ suffered a large bruise on his hip in December 2018.
Crystal Lake police reported the bruise, and dog feces found inside AJ’s home at 94 Dole Ave., to DCFS on Dec. 18. During his conversation with AJ that day, the boy told Acosta he was bruised when the family dog jumped on him, Acosta said. It’s the same story police said AJ told them earlier that day.
During a DCFS-ordered doctor visit Dec. 18, however, AJ told the doctor “maybe mommy hit me with a belt.” Acosta never returned to question AJ further about the bruise, citing training that advises against reinterviewing children.
As for the reportedly unsanitary living conditions at the home, Acosta has said the house at 94 Dole Ave. appeared to have been cleaned up and met what the department refers to as “minimum parenting standards” when he performed a home visit Dec. 19.
Acosta and Polovin ultimately determined that the reports of neglect and abuse were unfounded.
In October, both were named in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of AJ’s estate. According to the 36-page lawsuit, the pair conducted “sham investigations” and falsified records related to their interaction with AJ’s family.
Acosta has said he followed department protocol and denied allegations of falsifying records.
DCFS and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office have declined to represent either Polovin or Acosta in the federal suit, records show.
Freund and Cunningham were arrested April 24 and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated domestic battery and concealment of a death, among other offenses, in connection with their son’s death.
On Thursday, Cunningham entered a blind guilty to plea to an amended count of first-degree murder. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Freund is due back in court Friday morning.