A judge ruled Friday that the 19 police reports Department of Children and Family Services employees did not request during an investigation into whether AJ Freund, the 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy later killed by his mother, was being abused can be admitted as evidence in an upcoming trial.
Lake County Judge George D. Strickland, who was brought in to preside over the McHenry County case due to a conflict, granted prosecutors’ motion over the objection of the defense attorneys representing former DCFS investigator Carlos Acosta and his former supervisor, Andrew Polovin.
Acosta, 56, of Woodstock, and Polovin, 50, of Island Lake, each are charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child and health of a minor, Class 3 felonies, and one count of reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony, related to their handling of the case of AJ Freund.
It has not yet been determined whether the cases will be heard before a jury or Strickland in a bench trial, or if their cases will be heard at the same time or separately.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito said the police reports – which neither Acosta nor Polovin ever requested after a police-activated emergency call to the house at 94 Dole Ave. on Dec. 18, 2018 – document a history of mental illness, domestic battery, theft, drug abuse and other alleged crimes connected to AJ’s parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund.
Cunningham and Freund each are serving prison terms for their son’s death.
Romito said Acosta and Polovin had the ability to control AJ’s abusers and protect AJ.
Failing to follow DCFS procedures and obtain the history of police contact with AJ’s parents and their house “put [AJ] in dangerous circumstances that led to his torture and murder some months later,” Romito said.
They did not do “what a reasonable DCFS worker would,” Romito said.
They should have reviewed all police reports and used them “as a tool showing risk factors when making decisions in AJ’s case,” she said.
But they did not do as they were trained, and “they left him in the home,” Romito said.
About four months later, on April 15, 2019, AJ was made to stand in a cold shower while his mother berated and beat him before putting him to bed wet, cold and naked, according to court documents and trial testimony during Cunningham’s sentencing hearing.
Cunningham, 39, and Freund, 63, hid AJ’s body in a tote in the basement of their home for about three days before Freund took his body, wrapped it in plastic garbage bags and buried him in a shallow grave in a field near Woodstock, according to police reports.
Freund then reported AJ missing.
After about a weeklong search that brought out thousands of people and police agencies from across the state and Wisconsin, Freund admitted to police that AJ was dead and led authorities to his body.
After police were called to the home Dec. 18, 2018, had Acosta and Polovin obtained documents and reports on past contacts with police, per DCFS policy, they would have learned what was going on inside the home, said Romito and Carole Ruzicka, a former DCFS supervisor who was called as an expert for the state during the hearing Friday.
On that date, Cunningham called police reporting her prescriptions had been stolen, Ruzicka said. DCFS became involved that day after police saw a large bruise on AJ’s waist and the “deplorable” condition of the house.
Reports stated that “mom did not look very good” and it was known she had a heroin addiction, Ruzicka said. These details should have automatically prompted Acosta and Polovin to seek all hospital and police reports related to the family. Doing so is “critical” in a DCFS investigation, Ruzicka said.
The investigators also failed to interview everyone in the house that day, she said.
Romito asked Ruzicka if Polovin and Acosta did any of these things, and she said, “No, there are no police reports in the DCFS file of this incident. ... All reports should have been part of the DCFS investigation, and they were not.”
Ruzicka noted the number of times that police were called to the house and said the dates “concerned” her. In particular, there were times when police were called to the house twice in one month, she said.
DCFS would have had to make a determination within 48 hours whether to put a child in protective custody, and this would have involved reviewing those police reports, Ruzicka said.
On cross-examination, Acosta’s attorney Rebecca Lee asked Ruzicka how many cases investigators typically work with in a month. She replied either eight to 10, 10 to 12 or 10 to 15.
Because of staff shortages, sometimes investigators have more cases, she said, to which Polovin, who was in the courtroom, chuckled quietly.
Cunningham pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Freund pleaded guilty to aggravated battery to a child younger than 13 causing permanent disability, involuntary manslaughter of a family member and concealment of a homicidal death and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.