Defense attorneys intensively questioned an expert witness and argued the two DCFS workers accused of mishandling the AJ Freund investigations were overworked as the trial entered its third day.
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.
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.
A joint trial for Acosta and Polovin, who both pleaded not guilty to their charges, began Monday morning.
The trial entered the third day Wednesday morning.
Carole Ruzicka, a retired DCFS administrator who is an expert witness called by prosecutors, began testifying Monday afternoon and all of Tuesday.
She continued testifying Wednesday and was cross-examined by defense attorneys, who were scolded several times by Lake County Judge George Strickland.
Strickland interrupted Acosta’s attorney Rebecca Lee at one point and said several of the questions she was asking Ruzicka were “far too general.”
“You’re going to need to ask a more specific question. Some of these questions are far too general and frankly, you’re losing me on some of these also,” the judge said.
Lee said the Woodstock DCFS field office, where Ruzicka, Polovin and Acosta worked, was overworked with more cases than mandated.
Lee said that Polovin had reached out to Ruzicka in 2018 asking for more staff due to their high caseload.
Ruzicka replied that she could not remember if that happened or not.
Lee also said during the cross-examination that Ruzicka had been paid over $7,800 in May 2021 for work performed as an expert witness for the state’s attorney’s office. The retired DCFS administrator said she was paid at $200 an hour.
The attorney continued to question Ruzicka about how many reports she submitted to the state’s attorney’s office.
Strickland interjected and asked Lee where she was going with her questioning.
“There’s a discovery obligation to turn over all reports,” Lee said.
The judge scolded the attorney and told her she was supposed to bring that up during the discovery phase — not at trial.
“This is a bench trial. You take up discovery obligations within the outside of the trial. How is this relevant to her testimony? […] How is this going to affect my ruling in some way?” Strickland said.
Ruzicka said during her testimony on Tuesday that Acosta failed to perform inquiries regarding parts of his report after he was called to investigate a large bruise found on AJ Freund in December 2018.
Ruzicka said Acosta incorrectly checked “no” on several parts of his report where he should have checked “yes.”
One of the parts included Acosta failing to document that there had been prior or current police involvement for domestic violence in the Freund family, Ruzicka said.
Ruzicka testified that Acosta failed to ask numerous questions and investigate further.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally presented a text message exchange between Acosta and Polovin.
The exchange showed Acosta sent a photo of the bruise to his supervisor and said, “Kid said big dog put his paw on me. I take that to mean a scratch.”
Polovin responded and said, “That looks nasty, but if that’s what the kid says.” The pair did not seek extended protective custody and instead let AJ go home from the hospital with his father.
“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 during opening statements Monday.
Matthew McQuaid, Polovin’s attorney, said during his opening statement that there will be “lots of speculation” presented during the trial.
Crystal Lake Police Officer Kimberley Shipbaugh on Monday testified 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 the emergency room visit after police noticed the 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.
DCFS closed the case after attributing the bruising to the family dog, despite AJ’s statement to the doctor.
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.