The trial has commenced for two former child welfare workers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) who are facing criminal charges related to the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund. Carlos Acosta, a former child welfare investigator and McHenry County board member, and his supervisor, Andrew Polovin, are accused of endangering the life of a child and reckless conduct.
Prosecutors argue that the two workers mishandled AJ Freund’s case, leading to his tragic death. McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally described Acosta and Polovin as “lazy and heartless” individuals who showed a lack of concern for AJ’s well-being.
AJ Freund, a friendly and talkative boy, was beaten to death by his mother, JoAnn Cunningham, in April 2019. His father, Andrew Freund Sr., buried him in a shallow grave in a field in Woodstock. Cunningham is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for his murder, while Freund Sr. is serving a 30-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a child, and concealment of a homicidal death.
The trial is significant because child welfare workers typically have some immunity from prosecution. However, if it is proven that Acosta and Polovin acted recklessly or in a willful and wanton manner, they could face imprisonment.
The charges against Acosta and Polovin stem from their handling of AJ’s case after police reported possible abuse. Despite evidence of neglect and physical injuries, Acosta released AJ and his younger brother to their mother’s custody against the objections of Officer Kimberley Shipbaugh, who had responded to a call at their home. Shipbaugh described the house as “disgusting” and noted the presence of bruises on AJ’s body.
During the trial, defense attorneys argued that the charges were based on hindsight and that Acosta had followed the instructions of his supervisors. The area supervisor, Carol Ruzicka, who has since retired, is expected to testify as a prosecution witness.
The trial is being held at the McHenry County Courthouse before Lake County Judge George Strickland, as the McHenry judges recused themselves from the case. Prosecutors contend that Acosta and Polovin repeatedly failed to follow required guidelines, and their actions amounted to criminal negligence.
The trial will continue as the prosecution presents its case against the former child welfare workers.