Lawsuit: DCFS workers showed 'inhumane indifference' to AJ Freund's safety
A pair of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigators showed "inhumane indifference" to the safety of murdered Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund, ultimately leading to his killing earlier this year, a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by the boy's estate alleges.
The suit accuses defendants Carlos Acosta, a child protection specialist for DCFS, and his supervisor Andrew R. Polovin of operating a "sham investigation" into prior allegations that AJ was abused and falsifying reports about their work.
Rather than take steps to protect AJ, the suit alleges, the DCFS workers ignored credible reports of abuse and returned the boy to his parents. The suit also alleges the agency ignored multiple calls by law enforcement, medical personnel and neighbors about potential abuse and neglect.
"Defendants Acosta and Polovin, ignoring DCFS procedures, ... 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," the suit states.
The suit seeks unspecified damages for AJ's estate, which is being administered by the State Bank of Geneva.
DCFS officials could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday.
AJ's parents, Andrew Freund, 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, each face first-degree murder and other charges stemming from AJ's death in April. Authorities allege the boy was beaten to death in his home and then buried in a shallow grave near Woodstock. They have pleaded not guilty.
According to the lawsuit, police officers, medical personnel and AJ's neighbors made numerous calls to DCFS' Child Abuse Hotline detailing the boy's observable physical injuries and the "appalling" condition of his home at 94 Dole Ave. in Crystal Lake.
However, only two of the calls were investigated by DCFS, the suit states.
"In response to the two hotline calls that DCFS deigned to document, 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 marked 'Unfounded,'" the lawsuit alleges.
A December 2018 call to DCFS by Crystal Lake police reported the family living in "squalid conditions" and noted a massive bruise on AJ's thigh that his mother claimed was caused by a dog. The police officer had doubts and the boy was taken to a hospital, where he reportedly told a doctor conflicting reports about what happened. At one point, AJ reported his mother had hit him with a belt and then reported the dog was responsible for the bruise.
Nonetheless, the boy was allowed to go home with his mother.
The suit claims Polovin "ignored the patent deficiencies and obvious prevarications that littered the investigators' reports" and blessed the findings that the allegations of abuse were unfounded.
"Emboldened by defendant Polovin's conscious indifference to AJ's safety, AJ's parents increased the intensity and frequency of their beatings and torture, relishing in their barbarism to the point of producing a video of their handiwork timestamped March 4, 2019, and ultimately, leading to AJ's murder on April 15, 2019," the suit alleges.
AJ was reported missing by his parents on April 18. Police believe Andrew Freund called 911 about the missing boy hours after burying his oldest son in a shallow grave in a field near Woodstock. Police believe AJ died after being subjected to a 20-minute cold shower and being beaten over the head.
Neighbors and law enforcement searched the area for days looking for the boy. The FBI was brought in to assist in the investigation. Authorities eventually retrieved cellphone data that revealed internet searches of "child CPR" and a list of grocery items that included things that were ultimately used to hide and bury AJ's remains. Nearly a week after he was reported missing, the boy's father confessed that AJ had been killed, pinning the murder on Cunningham.
AJ Freund is buried in a Palatine cemetery beneath a headstone that reads, in part, "Our precious little hero."
Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.