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Family of Sema’j Crosby awarded $6.4 million in lawsuit settlement

An attorney for the family said the money will go toward Sema’j’s sibilings

A mourner holds a program Friday, May 5, 2017, during the funeral for Sema'j Crosby at Prayer Tower Ministries Church of God In Christ in Joliet, Ill.

The family of Sema’j Crosby, the Joliet Township toddler found dead in her home nearly five years ago, settled a wrongful death lawsuit against an Illinois Department of Children & Family Services contractor for more than $6.4 million.

Jay Paul Deratany, an attorney for the family, announced the settlement this week, days before the anniversary of Crosby’s death.

“No amount of money can possibly bring Sema’j Crosby back, but we hope that organizations such as Children’s Home & Aid, as well as other contractors with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, will abide by their contractual obligations to provide the best possible care for children,” Deratany said in a statement. “There was no reason Sema’j had to die, and the money that will go to her brothers and sisters will never ease the pain.”

A spokeswoman for Deratany’s office said the money also would go to Semaj’s father, James Crosby, who was in jail at the time of his daughter’s death.

Sema’j was reported missing from her home on Louis Road in Preston Heights on April 25, 2017. A short time before her disappearance, the Department of Children and Family Services visited the residence and saw Sema’j and her brothers.

Will County sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents conducted a massive search for the toddler. Dozens of volunteers joined to look in nearby fields, and divers were sent into retention ponds.

Her body was found less than two days later under a couch inside the house where she lived with her mother, siblings and other family members.

The Will County Coroner’s Office listed Sema’j’s death as “suspicious” and later ruled it a homicide, explaining that she died by asphyxia, or suffocation. The coroner’s office based its determination on the “unusual circumstances surrounding her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her decomposing body under the couch in her home.”

A detective with the Will County Sheriff’s Office later identified four adults who were at the house on the day Sema’j went missing: Sheri Gordon, Sema’j’s mother; Darlene Crosby, Sema’j’s grandmother; Lakerisha Crosby, Sema’j’s aunt; and Tamika Robinson, a friend of Darlene Crosby’s. The detective also said a minor was in the home.

Deputy Chief Dan Jungles of the Will County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation into the toddler’s death is still active, although tips on the case come in sporadically throughout the year.

“No one wants this case solved more than the detectives that are working this case,” Jungles said.

Jungles also said that until an arrest is made, the sheriff’s office cannot rule out the five individuals who were at the house when Sema’j went missing. He said that Gordon and Robinson both have been cooperative with the investigation and have answered several questions from police.

Multiple messages left to a number registered to Gordon were not returned Friday.

Jungles also said Darlene and Lakerisha Crosby both were initially cooperative and even took and failed polygraph tests. Beyond that, they have been unwilling to answer investigators’ questions, he said.

Darlene Crosby declined to comment on the announcement of the settlement and said she has told investigators all she knows about what happened to her granddaughter.

When asked about how her family was faring nearly five years after Sema’j’s death, she said, “We’re still in the same place when it first happened. We still want the truth. We still want justice.”

About a month after Sema’j was found, DCFS released a 22-page report that detailed the findings of child protection investigations involving the household from April 2015 until April 2017. The investigations found allegations of inadequate supervision and physical and sexual abuse of the children living in the house, drug use and the need for the psychiatric hospitalization of one of the children.

A key assertion in the report was that DCFS investigators and caseworkers who were part of a contracted agency completed the preliminary communication and assessments, but it was “not clear” whether all of the relevant information about the children’s mother and caregivers residing in the home was shared.

In a statement, DCFS said it continues to “improve our practice, whether it’s how we investigate and respond to these cases, how we oversee and use the private agencies we contract to provide services and in how we collaborate with the communities we serve.”

“Improvements in child welfare are never quick or easy,” the agency said in the statement. “Many of the challenges we face are longstanding and entrenched, but everyone in this administration is deeply committed to overcoming them and providing the care that our vulnerable children and families truly deserve.”

Sema’j’s godmother, LaToya Robinson, who grew up with Gordon, decried the lawsuit as a way for the family to get money from the case. Robinson remained active in trying to get answers for what happened to the toddler and has blamed the individuals in the house when Sema’j died for the conditions she and her siblings were kept in.

“I see the people who wronged her [Sema’j] ... actually profited from her death,” Robinson said.

Robinson added she hopes James Crosby will use the money to hire a private investigator to seek answers on Sema’j’s death, but doubted he would make such an effort.

Attempts to contact James Crosby were unsuccessful.

When asked what she thought about those who point to her as being allegedly responsible for Sema’j’s death, Darlene Crosby said they don’t know the truth and “shouldn’t speak on anything.”

“It’s OK to have your opinion, but don’t spread rumors or lies,” she said.