A social service contractor has asked a Cook County judge to rule that it can’t be found responsible for the 2017 death of 17-month-old Semaj Crosby because the toddler’s autopsy has not been released.
The motion for summary judgment was filed last week in a lawsuit that was brought against the contractor, Children’s Home + Aid, by Semaj’s father in 2018.
The suit alleges that CHA, which was assigned to Semaj’s family by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, failed to take steps to remove the toddler from the home of her mother, Sheri Gordon, who’s also a defendant in the lawsuit.
The Will County Coroner’s Office ultimately ruled her death a homicide caused by asphyxia, but the toddler’s full autopsy has not been released in the more than four years since her death as the case is still considered ongoing by the Will County Sheriff’s Office. Even the attorneys for both Semaj’s estate and CHA have yet to see the full findings.
“Since there is no evidence of how Semaj died, there is no evidence to link her death to anything CHA did or did not do,” CHA attorney Thomas Carton wrote in his memorandum filed last week. “Consequently, Plaintiff’s entire case against CHA is premised solely, and impermissibly, upon speculation and conjecture, with no factual evidence to take to trial.”
“It is utterly remote and legally insufficient to argue that, because Semaj remained in the Gordon home, CHA is liable for all injuries and happenings of any kind — just because she was in the home,” Carton added. “Depending on how Semaj died, her presence in the home may be completely immaterial to her death.”
Jay Paul Deratany, the attorney representing Semaj’s estate, recently told WGN that “Will County has an obligation to conduct its investigation in a timely fashion. I don’t believe — It’s my opinion that they haven’t done so.”
It was not immediately clear when the judge in the case would rule on the motion.
A caseworker from CHA made an unannounced visit and performed a walk-through of the home on April 24, 2017. It was the 41st time since the previous September the caseworker went to Gordon’s house as part of the family’s ongoing Intact Family Services case, which was spurred by an unfounded DCFS hotline report made against Gordon.
Intact Family Services cases are designed to ensure “the safety and well-being of children without the need for protective custody by providing families with needed in-home services,” according to DCFS.
Around 3:15 p.m. on April 25, a DCFS investigator visited the home and found markings on the walls, “dirty dishes and trash left to the side of the kitchen,” as well as clothes strewn about one of the bedrooms and toys on the floor.
Gordon reported Semaj missing about three hours later.
A huge search of the area around her home at 309 Louis Road was unsuccessful. Two days later, investigators came back to the house and found Semaj’s body stuffed under a legless couch. A subsequent search of the home would reveal a cockroach and bedbug infestation.
The one-story, 864-square-foot home was also used as shelter by several squatters who were not permitted to live on the premises. A few days after Semaj’s body was discovered, the home burned to the ground. Authorities have said arson was “most likely” the cause.
Dan Jungles, Deputy Chief of Special Operations for the Will County Sheriff’s Office, declined to say if investigators believe CHA had a role in Semaj’s death, but he said: “The fact that a DCFS employee was at the home of where Semaj Crosby lived just prior to her being reported as missing speaks for itself.”