Witness says ex-DCFS workers were 'ultimately responsible' for AJ's safety

A former child protective specialist and his supervisor were "ultimately responsible" for the safety of a 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy killed by his parents in April 2019, a retired Illinois Children and Family Services administrator said Tuesday.

Testimony from Carol Ruzicka, the state's expert witness, took up the second day of the trial of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Polovin, who were charged criminally in the death of AJ Freund.

Acosta, 57, of Woodstock, and Polovin, 51, of Island Lake, each are charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child and health of a minor and one count of reckless conduct related to their handling of the child's case.

Defense attorneys have argued the child welfare agency's Woodstock field office, from which AJ's case was handled, was "overwhelmingly overworked and understaffed."

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally spent nearly three hours reading through pages of a DCFS training manual.

Kenneally questioned Ruzicka on whether Acosta or Polovin followed a number of rules listed in the manual after an emergency call was made by a Crystal Lake police officer to DCFS out of concern for the welfare of AJ and his 3-year-old brother on Oct. 18, 2018.

Officer Kimberley Shipbaugh testified Monday that she made the call after seeing the "filthy" home they lived in along Dole Avenue and seeing AJ's bruise and fat lip.

To each question, Ruzicka said neither Acosta nor Polovin adhered to training and did what was required.

When Kenneally asked Ruzicka if AJ would have been killed had the procedures been followed and services were provided, she replied, "I do not believe he would have been."

Among the missteps in the investigation was the failure to provide a special forensic interviewer to question AJ about his bruise and fat lip and how he was disciplined at home, Ruzicka said.

Acosta failed in not providing the required full body chart marking all of AJ's injuries, and he did not arrange for a second medical opinion about the bruise, she testified.

Acosta also failed to properly interview AJ's father, Andrew Freund Sr., mother JoAnn Cunningham and her boyfriend Daniel Nowicki, who at one point lived in the home, Ruzicka said.

Freund Sr., 64, and Cunningham, 40, ultimately pleaded guilty in AJ's case and are in prison. Nowicki has since died and was never charged.

In court, Kenneally read a text message exchange between Acosta and Polovin.

Acosta sent a picture of the bruise to Polovin and said AJ said it was caused by the dog. Polovin responded "Yikes, that looks nasty but if that is what the kid says."

AJ had provided different reasons for how the bruise happened, then said someone who is not in his family did it. He also told the emergency room doctor: "Maybe Mommy didn't mean to hurt me."

Additionally, Acosta failed to ask Cunningham about her drug use and did not require her to take a drug test on Dec. 18, according to the testimony. And he did not ensure that a family friend - who picked up her and her two children from the police department that night to go to the emergency room - was safe to leave with, Ruzicka testified.

On cross examination, Acosta's attorney Rebecca Lee challenged Ruzicka, arguing that some of the rules she described were not the same as rules in the DCFS manual on Dec. 18, 2018. Attorneys then took a recess to review the manual and evidence to be considered by Lake County Judge George Strickland.

Lee also asked, based on the training manual, if a bruise alone is enough to satisfy an allegation of abuse, to which Ruzicka said no.

On the evening of April 14, 2019, AJ was beaten and made to stand in a cold shower before being put to bed cold, wet and naked. His father falsely reported him missing the next morning.

AJ's body was found about a week later wrapped in plastic garbage bags in a shallow grave in Woodstock.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning.

Trial starts for DCFS workers who handled AJ Freund's case

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Keneally holds an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services training manual in court Tuesday. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
Former Department of Children and Family Services worker Andrew Polovin confers with defense attorney Matthew McQuaid on Tuesday in Woodstock. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
Former Department of Children and Family Services worker Carlos Acosta listens to court proceedings during the second day of his trial Tuesday in Woodstock Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
AJ Freund
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