A doctor and an attorney testified Thursday they believe AJ Freund would be alive today if the two DCFS workers accused of mishandling his abuse investigations took protective custody of him.
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 fourth day Thursday morning.
Pamela Wells, a staff attorney for the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, testified that she believed AJ would not have been returned to his parents by April 15, 2019, when he was killed, if DCFS had taken protective custody of AJ when they responded in December 2018 to investigate a large bruise found on the boy.
AJ told an emergency room doctor, who was examining the bruise, that he had been hit or spanked before.
“I had asked with what, and he said a belt, I asked him if that is what made the mark, and he said yes,” Dr. JoEllen Channon, who works at Northwestern Medicine Hospital Woodstock, testified earlier this week.
AJ then told the doctor, “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” Channon said.
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.
“You don’t leave the child in the situation to be injured again while you figure it out,” Wells said Thursday.
Wells explained that the court would very likely have granted protective custody of AJ after the bruising incident.
The attorney said that even if AJ had eventually been returned home after the incident, there would have been several conditions in place ordered by the court.
Those conditions, such as random drug tests for the parents and random check-ins at the Freund home, would have disrupted the possibility that further abuse would have occurred, Wells said.
“The parents would have been less likely to abuse him — number one. And number two, if that abuse had been ongoing they would have been able to see it and there would have been later hearings to remove him from the home,” Wells said.
Misty Marinier, the executive director at the McHenry County Child Advocacy Center and a former Algonquin police officer, testified that AJ’s injury would have qualified for an interview at the child advocacy center but DCFS never contacted the center.
“I believe that had any of those been done, AJ would not have been tortured to death,” Dr. Demetra Soter, who is a pediatrician with a specialty in child abuse, testified, referring to DCFS taking intervention months before AJ’s death.
Prosecutors rested their case Thursday.
Attorneys for Polovin and Acosta have argued they were overworked with cases and needed more staff.
“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.
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.