October 28, 2021
Crime & Courts

2 DCFS employees involved in AJ Freund case arrested

McHenry County Board Member Carlos Acosta, former child welfare worker Andrew Polovin charged with child endangerment

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A pair of former child welfare employees who had prior contact with slain Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund and his family were arrested Thursday on child endangerment charges.

McHenry County Board member and former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees Carlos Acosta, 54, was arrested and charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one felony count of reckless conduct.

Also arrested was Acosta's former supervisor, Andrew Polovin, 48, of Island Lake, on the same charges, according to the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

If the pair is unable to post bond overnight, they could make brief court appearances Friday morning at the McHenry County Jail in Woodstock, as is standard practice. Both men's bonds were set at $20,000 each as of Thursday evening, jail records show.

Each posted bond on Thursday night and were released.

Acosta and Polovin were placed on desk duty in April 2019, after AJ was reported missing on April 18. Both former employees were fired from DCFS in December.

Reached by phone Thursday, Illinois DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffery declined to comment, noting that the case is an ongoing investigation being handled by another agency.

Officers on Thursday served arrest warrants on both men, who subsequently were transported to the McHenry County Jail.

A grand jury approved the charges Thursday, McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.

Kenneally declined to say what evidence was presented to the grand jury, but said the joint investigation with police had been underway to some extent since AJ's April 2019 death.

According to a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office news release, it would not release any additional information related to the investigation leading up to the warrants of arrest.

"The vast majority of the evidence was uncovered as part of the AJ death investigation," Kenneally said Thursday.

Although uncommon in Illinois, criminally charging a child welfare employee in connection with a child death isn't unheard of. This case, however, is the first of its kind Kenneally can recall in McHenry County, he said.

Los Angeles County tried to set a similar example in 2016, when prosecutors filed criminal charges against the DCFS workers who allowed 7-year-old Gabriel Fernandez to remain in the home with his mother and her boyfriend, despite multiple investigations.

About six weeks after DCFS closed its case, Gabriel died as a result of child neglect and severe head trauma. Charges against the social workers in that case have since been dismissed.

DCFS employees are granted certain civil and criminal immunity under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. Illinois law clarifies that anyone making a report of child abuse or neglect is presumed to have done so in good faith.

In the past, Kenneally has been outspoken about his frustrations with the local DCFS office. Neither Acosta's nor Polovin's arrests, however, are a comment on Kenneally's personal feelings toward the agency, he said.

"We’ve definitely seen the work of DCFS in the number of cases that they’re referring to us [and] the quality of the work has improved," Kenneally said.

The Northwest Herald reported in May that charges against the pair were being investigated.

Both former DCFS employees were involved in the 2018 investigation involving a large bruise on AJ's hip. That investigation came into question again after AJ's death, which allegedly occurred at the hands of his parents. AJ's mother, JoAnn Cunningham, was sentenced in July to 35 years in prison for first-degree murder in connection with the boy's death.

AJ's father, Andrew Freund Sr., also was charged with first-degree murder and a series of felonies tied to AJ's death. He's expected to make a court appearance Wednesday. Freund's attorney, Special Public Defender Henry Sugden, has said the case could plead out before it goes to trial. Kenneally declined to comment Thursday on any possible negotiations.

Acosta and Polovin's 2018 investigation involving AJ's family also is the subject of a federal lawsuit in which both men are named as defendants. Both former employees are accused of conducting a "sham investigation" and falsifying records.

Acosta, who had been with the department for about 25 years before his firing, has said he followed DCFS procedures during the 2018 investigation. Polovin did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Northwest Herald throughout the past year.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Investigator Robert Diviacchi filed a search warrant affidavit May 7 seeking the complete personnel file, training transcripts and employee evaluations of Polovin.

Polovin was the agency supervisor who closed the 2018 investigation into the large bruise on AJ’s hip.

According to the affidavit, which also referenced Acosta, Polovin allowed protective custody of AJ to lapse before conducting a proper investigation. He’s also accused of omitting a corresponding Crystal Lake police report, medical records and home safety checklist from AJ’s December 2018 file.

“From the Inspector General’s report, it is indicated that Mr. Polovin’s lack of supervisory oversight was willful and [wanton], given the nature of the injury, the explanations that had been given and rejected by police and unsupported by medical examination," Diviacchi said in his affidavit.

Diviacchi claimed in his affidavit that Polovin failed to take a number of steps before allowing AJ to return home. Those include examining AJ’s home environment, interviewing AJ’s father, obtaining and reviewing police reports and medical records, securing a second medical opinion and documenting the decision to return custody to AJ’s parents.

The DCFS investigation cited in Diviacchi’s affidavit took place about four months before police say AJ’s parents beat and killed the boy in their Dole Avenue home. The house has since been demolished.

Crystal Lake police officer Kimberly Shipbaugh originally reported the 2018 case to DCFS after she responded to a call at Freund and Cunningham’s home the morning of Dec. 18 that year. It was the third investigation involving Cunningham and her children.

Acosta met with AJ at the Crystal Lake police department that day and asked him about the large bruise officers noticed on his hip. According to Diviacchi’s affidavit, Acosta later described the injury “by saying he had not seen bruising like it in his years as a child protection investigator.”

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.

Cassie Buchman

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.