2 ex-child welfare workers face charges in slain boy case

National News

This Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 booking photo provided by the McHenry County, Ill., Sheriff’s Office, shows Carlos J. Acosta, one of two child welfare workers who investigated abuse allegations involving a 5-year-old boy allegedly killed months later by his parents, has been charged with child endangerment. Acosta, 54, of Woodstock, and his former supervisor, 48-year-old Andrew Polovin of Island Lake, were arrested Thursday on two counts each of endangering the life of a child and one count of reckless conduct. (McHenry County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) — Two former Illinois child welfare workers who investigated abuse allegations involving a 5-year-old boy allegedly killed months later by his parents face child endangerment charges accusing them of failing to protect the youngster from harm, according to an indictment filed Friday.

Carlos Acosta, an elected McHenry County board member from Woodstock, and his former supervisor, Andrew Polovin of Island Lake, were arrested Thursday on two counts each of endangering the life of a child and one count of reckless conduct, the McHenry County sheriff’s office announced.

Acosta, 54, and Polovin, 48, were released later Thursday after posting bond, jail records show.

The men left the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in December following a lengthy internal disciplinary process after Andrew “A.J.” Freund was found dead in a shallow grave near his family’s Crystal Lake home in April 2019, days after his parents reported him missing.

The boy’s parents, Andrew Freund and Joann Cunningham, were charged with first-degree murder in his beating death. Cunningham, 36, pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder and was sentenced last month to 35 years in prison. Andrew Freund, 60, is awaiting trial.

Charging documents filed with the McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office allege that Polovin and Acosta “knowingly caused or permitted (AJ) … to be placed in circumstances that endangered AJ’s life or health.” They’re also accused of recklessly performing an act that “caused great bodily harm or permanent disability” to a child, according to the grand jury indictment, the Northwest Herald reported.

The Associated Press left a telephone message Friday for Acosta seeking comment about the charges from him or an attorney. A telephone number couldn’t immediately be found for Polovin to request comment.

Department of Children and Family Services spokesman Bill McCaffery declined to comment Thursday on the charges, noting that the case is an ongoing investigation being handled by another agency.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally told the Northwest Herald that a grand jury approved the charges Thursday. He declined to say what evidence was presented to the grand jury, but said the joint investigation with police had been underway to some extent since AJ’s death.

Acosta was the child protection specialist assigned to investigate a December 2018 hotline call from Crystal Lake police regarding a bruise on AJ’s right hip. The boy gave various statements about the cause of his injury, including that the family’s dog had pawed him, but he also told an emergency room doctor, “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

Acosta deemed the abuse allegation unfounded about two weeks later after consulting with Polovin, who also was the supervisor in two earlier hotline investigations involving AJ, records show.

After the child died, an investigation alleged that he had been subjected to a pattern of abuse by his parents, culminating in his death while padlocked inside his bedroom with swelling in his brain.

DCFS officials have declined to say whether Acosta and Polovin were fired or quit. But former agency Inspector General Meryl Paniak had recommended their termination for their handling of the December 2018 hotline investigation.

According to a May search warrant affidavit, Polovin allowed protective custody of AJ to lapse before conducting a proper investigation into the bruise on AJ’s hip, the Northwest Herald reported. Polivin is also accused of omitting a corresponding Crystal Lake police report, medical records and home safety checklist from AJ’s December 2018 file.

Acosta, who had been with the department for about 25 years, has said he followed agency procedures.

Acosta and Polovin are named in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the slain boy’s estate, which represents his three siblings. That complaint alleges that the former state employees showed “an inhumane indifference to AJ’s safety.” The lawsuit contends that Acosta and Polovin conducted and approved “sham investigations” that “returned AJ right back into the claws of his abusers.”

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