AJ Freund

Trial continues for former DCFS Workers charged after AJ Freund's death

Experts say trials like this are unusual

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A rare scene is playing out this week in a McHenry County courtroom, as two former DCFS workers are on trial following the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund.

The former workers are being charged with two felony counts each of of endangering the life of a child and reckless conduct in connection with Freund's 2019 death.

Carlos Acosta and his supervisor, Andrew Polovin sat quietly as their lawyers argued about what regulations were in effect at the time of AJ's death. He was killed by his mother, four months after she had a disturbing encounter with a Crystal Lake police officer.

Jo Ann Cunningham, who has admitted to drug abuse and psychiatric problems, had called police to report the theft of prescription drugs and a cell phone from her home.

Officer Kimberly Shipbaugh testified on Monday that when she toured the house in Dec. 2018, she found broken windows, mattresses on the floor next to dog feces and urine, and Cunningham’s two children dressed only in t-shirts and diapers.

Shipbaugh told the court that she noticed a large bruise on his right hip that stretched around his torso to his back.

“When I saw him enter into the kitchen, I saw a horrific bruise on his side that literally took my breath away,” she said.  

The officer told Lake County Judge George Strickland, who is presiding over this trial after other judges in McHenry County recused themselves, that she expressed concern about him being turned back over to his mother’s custody. She said she asked others in her department if the child could remain in protective custody.

”I was told it was already turned over to DCFS and its now in their court to handle,” she said.

Prosecutors allege agent Carlos Acosta and his supervisor, Andrew Polovin failed to follow the policies of the Department of Children and Family Services when they returned the boy to the home.

In particular, McHenry County States Attorney Patrick Kenneally accused them of conducting “sham investigations” into the welfare of AJ and his younger brother.

Attorneys for the men say the two did the best they could under the regulations at the time and disagreed with the procedures being used as examples by the prosecution.

Typically, workers like Acosta and Polovin have immunity from prosecution unless they willfully acted in a reckless manner.

Both of AJ’s parents are currently serving time. His mother, JoAnn Cunningham, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his murder. His father, Andrew Freund was sentenced to 30 years in prison for various crimes including helping to hide AJ’s death.

The trial of Acosta and Polovin is expected to continue through Friday.

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