Opening statements were given and witnesses testified Monday during the first day of a trial for two former DCFS workers accused of mishandling the AJ Freund investigations before the boy’s death.
Carlos J. Acosta, 57, of Woodstock, and Andrew R. Polovin, 51, of Island Lake, were both charged in September 2020 with two counts of endangering the life of a child causing death, a Class 3 felony, and one count of reckless conduct causing great bodily harm, a Class 4 felony.
Acosta and Polovin pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A grand jury indictment charged Acosta, a DCFS child protection specialist, and Polovin, a DCFS child protection supervisor, with “not acting in good faith” within their official capacities.
The indictment said the two, in a “willful or wanton manner,” knowingly caused or permitted the life or health of Andrew Freund Jr. to be endangered and that was the proximate cause of the boy’s death.
Freund Jr., who was five years old and resided in Crystal Lake, was murdered in 2019 by his mother, JoAnn Cunningham.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally gave an opening statement Monday morning at the beginning of Acosta and Polovin’s joint trial.
“When your job is to protect children and you don’t do that job because you are lazy and you are heartless, you are necessarily and by definition endangering children,” Kenneally said.
Attorneys for Acosta and Polovin gave their opening statements after Kenneally.
Matthew McQuaid, Polovin’s attorney, said during his opening statement that there will be “lots of speculation” presented during the trial.
The trial is being overseen by Lake County Judge George Strickland, who has been presiding in the case following an Illinois Supreme Court order.
Multiple witnesses were called by prosecutors to take the stand after opening statements were finished.
Crystal Lake Police Officer Kimberley Shipbaugh talked about responding to the Freund house at 94 Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake in December 2018 before AJ’s death.
She broke down crying talking about the signs of abuse she saw on the young boy.
Shipbaugh also described the uninhabitable living conditions in the home, which prompted her to notify the building and zone department for an inspection and contact DCFS.
Dr. JoEllen Channon, who works at Northwestern Medicine Hospital Woodstock, testified about her interactions with the family and DCFS during an emergency room visit after police noticed a large bruise on AJ.
Channon said she asked the boy if he had been hit or spanked before, to which he replied that he had.
“I had asked with what, and he said a belt, I asked him if that is what made the mark, and he said yes,” Channon said.
AJ then told the doctor, “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” Channon testified.
The doctor said she was 100% certain that protective custody could be maintained over AJ because of the evidence indicating his mother, JoAnn Cunningham, was the abuser.
Channon said she wanted the boy to receive a forensic exam to further investigate but DCFS ended up letting the boy leave the hospital with his father. Acosta was assigned to the case.
They closed the case after attributing the bruising to the family dog, despite AJ’s statement to the doctor.
A federal lawsuit filed said that Acosta, who is also a current McHenry County board member, and Polovin conducted “sham investigations” and falsified reports despite clear signs that AJ was being abused before his death.
The lawsuit alleged 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,” Attorney Peter J. Flowers said in the lawsuit.
Polovin and Acosta were later fired by DCFS. Their trial is expected to last the entire week.
AJ’s parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, were both charged with first-degree murder on April 24, 2019, 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.
Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving 35 years in the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois.
Andrew Freund Sr. pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to aggravated battery to a child, a Class X felony, involuntary manslaughter, a Class 3 felony, and concealing a homicidal death, a Class 3 felony. He is serving 30 years in prison.