The Will County sheriff’s office is now describing Semaj Crosby’s death as “an ongoing criminal investigation” while also disclosing that its officers visited the house where the toddler was found dead nearly 60 times in a little more than a year’s time, newly obtained records show.
Previously, authorities had characterized the toddler’s death as “suspicious” — but not “criminal.”
An attorney for Semaj’s mother declined to comment Thursday afternoon.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Chicago Sun-Times, the sheriff’s office withheld some records, citing “an ongoing criminal investigation.” But the sheriff’s office did disclose that officers came to Semaj’s Joliet Township house 59 times between February 2016 and April 2017.
Forty of those calls were for probation checks. And two of those calls were for “welfare checks,” one of them in October 2016 and one on March 4, 2017, records show.
In the October call, officers were not able to make contact with the family.
It was unclear if contact with the family was made during the March visit, and officers wrote that a follow-up report would be filed, though it is unclear whether that occurred.
Friday, the Will County sheriff’s office issued a statement saying the Sun-Times mischaracterized information disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request. Despite the sheriff’s office denying the Sun-Times records under the “criminal investigation” exemption, the office said Friday that “the case is still considered a ‘suspicious death’ investigation” that has always been considered “criminal.”
The sheriff’s office said that the 40 probation visits were carried out by the Will County Probation Office, a separate entity.
“When a Probation officer visits a residence, for whatever reason, they are required to call the Sheriff’s 911 dispatch center,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Sheriff’s deputies do not respond to these visits unless requested to do so from Probation personnel.”
Among the other reasons for sheriff’s department visits: four were for disturbances, some domestic in nature; four were for “public service;” two were for “crisis intervention;” two were to deliver subpoenas; two were for building checks; one for assistance to the fire department; one for arson and one for the death of Semaj, whose lifeless body was found under a couch about 33 hours after an investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had been at the house.
The investigator had been at the home less than three hours before Semaj vanished to investigate a previous neglect allegation and saw “no obvious hazards or safety concerns” for the little girl or her two brothers, officials have said. DCFS had been working with the family since September 2016.
The sheriff’s office said the child was discovered dead late the night of April 26.
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Semaj and her family moved into the home in the 300 block of Louis about one year ago, according to the sheriff’s office, though — since her biological parents did not live together — it was not known exactly how much time Semaj spent in the home.
An autopsy did not rule on the girl’s cause of death, pending the results of lab and toxicology tests. There were no obvious signs of trauma or injury, the sheriff’s office said last week, adding that they were still “interviewing cooperating witnesses and some family members.”
No arrests have been made.
Photos released earlier this week by the Will County Department of Land Use appeared to support the characterization that the home was in “deplorable” conditions when the child was found dead inside.
“The entire structure appeared unsanitary because of the heavily soiled carpets, walls, garbage and [it] contains a serious degree of filth,” an inspector noted in her report.
The inspector went on to describe the back door and electrical panel blocked by “strollers, black garbage bags, toys, clothing and containers.”
The home was deemed “unfit for human occupancy.”
During a Legislative hearing Wednesday in Springfield, DCFS Director George Sheldon said his department is conducting a review to determine what it missed — if anything — about the case. He expects the agency to complete its investigation within several days.
Sheldon told lawmakers he would release records if police investigations determine the girl died at the hands of a caregiver. If the cause of death is ruled otherwise, Sheldon said, he would not have the authority to order the release. But he told news reporters later that he would “join the media” in asking for such records to be unsealed.
During the Senate panel’s hearing, Sheldon questioned the circumstances of Semaj’s body being found beneath the couch, which had no legs.
“Obviously something was going on and apparently an individual or individuals attempted to hide that fact,” he said.
It’s not clear who was in the home when the girl disappeared, authorities have said. The Will County Sheriff’s Office said last week that numerous squatters frequented the property.
Sheldon said dirty conditions inside the house were not reason enough to remove Semaj and her brothers from their mother’s care.
“There is no greater exercise of police power by government than to take somebody’s child away, so I think we’ve got to be very cautious about how we do that,” he told reporters after the hearing.