Caseworker Carlos Acosta and his supervisor, who had both been on leave, have now been fired by the Department of Children and Family Services for their handling in the AJ Freund abuse investigation prior to his death.
Illinois DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch confirmed to multiple news outlets Friday that Acosta and his supervisor Andrew Polovin were no longer employed by the agency.
“Following the heartbreaking death of AJ Freund, DCFS began a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with AJ’s family to understand what needs to change to prevent tragedies like this from happening again,” Strokosch said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“DCFS is continuing to examine the department’s work in this case and will take all necessary action to protect the children and families we serve,” Strokosch added.
A third DCFS worker involved, Kathleen Gold, retired on October 28 and is no longer with DCFS. DCFS Inspector General Meryl Paniak recommended the three workers, who had all been put on desk duty following AJ’s death, to be fired.
Acosta told the Northwest Herald that he had been fired at 4:55 p.m. Thursday. He plans to file a wrongful termination grievance and have the issue reviewed by an independent arbitrator, he told the paper.
“I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s just,” Acosta told the Northwest Herald, adding “In the short term, I have to do like every other resident in the country and try to find a job with a living wage and affordable health care.”
A federal lawsuit alleges that Acosta, who is also a McHenry County Board Member, and Polovin conducted ‘sham investigations’ and falsified reports despite clear signs that 5-year-old Andrew Freund was being abused before his death.
Acosta and Polovin had over 20 years of experience each at DCFS.
“Unfortunately, the very people who were mandated to investigate the ongoing reports of abuse and prevent any further harm to this child failed him,” Attorney Peter J. Flowers said in a statement.
The lawsuit, which was filed October 16 in federal court by Chicago-based law firm Meyers and Flowers, names Acosta and Polovin as defendants in the case.
JoAnn Cunningham gave birth Andrew “AJ” Freund in 2013 but the boy was removed from his mother’s custody after she tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines. DCFS returned AJ to his mother 18 months later.
In the five years AJ was alive, DCFS and police had numerous encounters with the young boy and his parents.
“As a result of Defendant Acosta’s reckless conduct, willful fabrications and callous disregard for AJ’s rights,” Flowers wrote in a 36-page civil complaint.
“DCFS released AJ from protective custody and abandoned him to deranged drug addicted abusers who subjected AJ to innumerable beatings, home imprisonments and torture, causing AJ unimaginable physical and mental torment and pain,” Flowers said.
“But for Defendant Acosta’s failure to follow mandated DCFS Procedures, AJ would not have been released from DCFS protective custody in December 2018, and would not have been returned to his parents where he incurred further abuse and was eventually killed,” the civil complaint alleges.
In December 2018, Crystal Lake police contacted DCFS, who opened an investigation into abuse allegations against Cunningham after officers found AJ to have suspicious bruising.
Acosta was assigned to the case but closed it after attributing the bruising to the family dog, despite Andrew telling an emergency room doctor, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
The lawsuit alleges that Acosta falsified the Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol and indicated that AJ’s bruise was caused by a dog, despite obvious inconsistencies with the story.
“Defendants Acosta and Polovin, ignoring DCFS Procedures and the Prime Directive of ANCRA, 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,” Flowers said in the lawsuit.
Three days after the boy’s death, AJ’s father reported the boy missing on April 18. During a 911 call, Andrew Freund Sr. calmly told an emergency dispatcher that he last saw his son when he put him to bed around 9:30 p.m. April 17 at the family home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake.
AJ’s parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, were both charged with first-degree murder on April 24 after an almost week-long search for the child. Police found the young boy’s body buried in a shallow grave in a field near Woodstock.
On December 5, Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. She faces between 20 and 60 years in prison. Andrew Freund Sr., who pleaded not guilty, appeared in court on Friday.