An Illinois father of a toddler found dead in her own home after being reported missing, has reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the city’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
His attorney said though the money will not bring the little girl back to her loved ones, it will assist in supporting the child’s siblings.
Lawsuit documents obtained by the Atlanta Black Star state that while five years have passed since Sema’j Crosby died and the 17-month-old’s death remains unsolved, the Will County family has reached a settlement of $6.45 million, days before the fifth anniversary of her death.
On Apr. 27, 2017, two days after relatives reported the girl missing, her body was found stuffed under a couch that was missing legs in the mother’s dirty Joliet Township home on the 300 block of Louis Road, the claim reports.
Her father, James Crosby, said the mother Sheri Gordon and the child protection agency assigned to her are responsible for the child’s tragic death, specifically noting Children’s Home and Aid’s failure to report the unsanitary conditions in the home.
Reports say the caseworker made an unannounced visit to the house on Monday, April 24, 2017, hours before she was said to be missing. Gordon’s residence was a part of an ongoing Intact Family Services case, “designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children without the need for protective custody by providing families with needed in-home services.”
It was the 41st time in seven months a caseworker had been called to the home, the lawsuit reports. Child services were called because there were suspicions the children were being neglected and adults were using drugs in the house.
Upon arrival, the caseworker saw how dirty the home was and only told the mother to clean the house up and scheduled a follow-up visit, the claim states.
The next day, on AprIl 25 around 3:15 p.m., a DCFS investigator doubled back to the home and observed markings on the walls, “dirty dishes and trash left to the side of the kitchen.” The house had clothes and toys thrown about, another report said. Three hours later, Semaj was reported missing.
“On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Will County Sheriff obtained consent to search the home at 11 p.m. The Sheriff’s department donned hazmat suits when searching the home, due to the filthy, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions,” the lawsuit says. The child was found and pronounced dead at 1:27 a.m. in the morning.
Police, who found the girl, called her death a “homicide by smothering.” The Will County Coroner’s Office ruled Semaj Crosby’s death a homicide caused by asphyxia, but a full autopsy has not been released and the case is still considered ongoing by the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
The county, shortly after her death, condemned the property, calling it “uninhabitable,” releasing photos of the disturbingly filthy interior.
A week after she was discovered dead the home was burned to the ground, destroying any evidence that might have led up to the arrest of a murder suspect. Firefighters said the flames and smoke came from the back bedroom.
East Joliet Fire Chief Robert Scholtes suggested arson was “most likely” the cause of the fire.
Up to 15 people, whom police have called squatters, occupied the home with the child, her three maternal siblings, and her mother. Some of them are reportedly blood relatives, the lawsuit states.
The attorney, who filed the civil suit half a decade ago, said, “There were so many warnings to Children Home and Aid and to DCFS that this child was in danger. The floor was disgusting, there were roaches on the wall, the place was condemnable, and they knew it and should have known it.”
A lawsuit filed by the girl’s father — who reportedly was incarcerated at the time of her death — accused Children’s Home and Aid, a contractor of the Department of Children and Family Services, of failing to protect Semaj by removing her from her mother’s custody despite visiting the home and finding the 1-year-old living in squalor conditions.
Deratany announced the settlement in a statement that chronicled “five years of litigation” and personal suffering by the family.
He wrote, “I am happy to announce that we have settled the case for $6,450,000. No amount of money can possibly bring Sema’j Crosby back, but we hope that organizations such as Children’s Home & Aid, as well as other contractors with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, will abide by their contractual obligations to provide the best possible care for children.”
The lawyer declared “there was no reason” for the young child to die and that “the money that will go to her brothers and sisters will never ease the pain.”
As a result of Semaj’s death, the family hopes, there have been policy changes at the Department of Children and Family Services in how numerous allegations of abuse and neglect of children in the home are handled.
“There was no reason Sema’j had to die,” he said.
Illinois DCFS released the following statement on Friday:
“DCFS is always shaken by the loss of a child. We work with vulnerable families every day and continue to improve our practice, whether it’s how we investigate and respond to these cases, how we oversee and use the private agencies we contract to provide services, and in how we collaborate with the communities we serve.”
The statement continued, “Director Smith has made it clear that protecting vulnerable children is a top priority. Improvements in child welfare are never quick or easy. Many of the challenges we face are longstanding and entrenched, but everyone in this administration is deeply committed to overcoming them and providing the care that our vulnerable children and families truly deserve.”