It’s been nearly a year and half since 5-year-old AJ Freund was found buried in a shallow grave after allegedly suffering horrific abuse at the hands of his parents, but now two former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees, who'd been tasked with protecting the boy, have been arrested.
Carlos Acosta, 54, and Andrew Polovin, 48, are each facing two counts of endangering the life of a child and one count of reckless conduct in connection with Freund’s April 2019 death, according to local station WGN.
The former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees are facing allegations that they “knowingly caused or permitted [AJ] … to be placed in circumstances that endangered AJ’s life or health,” according to the indictments in the case obtained by The Northwest Herald.
Acosta, a McHenry County Board member and veteran DCFS employee, had contact with AJ about four months before the young boy’s death in December 2018 after a Crystal Lake police officer contacted the office with concerns about a large bruise on the boy’s hip.
Polovin had been Acosta’s supervisor at the time.
After AJ was reported missing by his father, Andrew Freund Sr., 60, in April of 2019, both employees were placed on desk duty; they were fired from DCFS in December.
AJ’s body was found buried in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic just days after he was reported missing.
Prosecutors have said they believe the 5-year-old was forced to sit in a cold shower and fatally beaten all over his body until he died, WBBM-TV reported after his death.
DCFS had been a regular fixture in AJ’s life from the time of his birth after he was born with drugs in his system.
Crystal Lake Police released more than 60 pages of documents detailing 17 different police calls to the family’s home in the five years before AJ’s death, according to a 2019 article in the Chicago Daily Herald.
During one visit, a police officer wrote that he found the home “not to be up to an acceptable standard of living with two young children living in the home” and officers reported a stench of feces and urine throughout the house.
Freund Sr. and AJ’s mother, Joann Cunningham, were charged with first-degree murder in his death. Cunningham, 37, has already pleaded guilty to her son’s death and was sentenced to 35 years behind bars for the slaying.
Freund Sr. is still awaiting trial.
Attention has now turned to the DCFS employees tasked with protecting the young boy. Polovin was accused in a May search warrant affidavit obtained by The Northwest Herald of allowing protective custody of AJ to lapse before conducting a proper investigation into the bruise found on his hip. He also allegedly failed to include a Crystal Lake police report, medical records and home safety checklist into AJ’s records.
According to the grand jury indictment released in the case last week, both men are also accused of recklessly performing an act that “caused great bodily harm or permanent disability” to a child.
Both men were also mentioned in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of AJ’s estate alleging that their lackluster investigation kept AJ in a harmful environment.
“These two DCFS employees who were supposed to help him ignored every red flag even ignoring reports of abuse from the local police, medical professionals and AJ’s neighbors,” the lawsuit alleges, according to WGN.
Peter Flowers, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the estate, told The Northwest Herald that the arrests were “a long time coming” and may also highlight the need for changes within the system.
“We all heard the tapes and saw the pictures and videos,” he said. “We know AJ’s death was entirely preventable.”
Acosta has said in the past that he followed all proper DCFS procedures during the investigation, according to the paper.
Both Acosta and Polvin have been released from jail on a $20,000 bond as they await future legal proceedings.
The case against the DCFS workers is reminiscent of the charges brought against four California social workers in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was forced to endure months of horrific abuse by his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre before his death.
In that case, the charges against Stefanie Rodriguez, 35; Patricia Clement, 69; Kevin Bom, 41; and Gregory Merritt, 64 were eventually dismissed after a judge ruled they had been “factually innocent,” of the charges against them, according to NBC News.
They had been facing one felony count of child abuse and falsifying public records with in connection with Fernandez’s death.
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