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Negligence by Semaj Crosby’s mother, DCFS contractor led to child’s death: suit

Semaj Crosby

Semaj Crosby | Will County sheriff's office

The father of Semaj Crosby — the Joliet Township infant who was found dead under a couch in a squalid home last year — has filed a lawsuit against the child’s mother and an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services contractor, alleging negligence by both parties led to the death of the 17-month-old girl.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of James Crosby, Semaj’s father, in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday. Sheri Gordon, Semaj’s mother, and Children’s Home + Aid, a DCFS contractor, were named as defendants.

Among other things, it alleges that Gordon was the person who “placed Semaj Crosby under the couch where she died.”

The complaint also claims negligence and willful and wanton conduct by Children’s Home + Aid and negligence by Gordon.

A representative for Children’s Home + Aid declined to comment. Messages left with Gordon’s attorney were not returned Tuesday.

Semaj lived in an 864-square-foot home in the 300 block of Louis Road in Joliet Township with her mother, three siblings, paternal grandmother, paternal aunt, her aunt’s two young children and her aunt’s parolee boyfriend. Gordon’s Section 8 housing voucher was intended to be used only by her and her four children, Joliet housing officials previously said.

RELATED: One year later, still no arrests in death of toddler

On April 24, 2017, a CHA caseworker assigned to monitor Semaj’s family visited the family home. The child would be found dead under a legless couch less than two days later. Her death was later ruled a homicide by asphyxia.

The lawsuit says the caseworker “observed or should have observed the home in an unsafe, unsanitary condition with bedbugs, roaches, vermin.” Those conditions, the suit states, “presented a clear safety hazard for any child within the home.”

The inside of the Joliet Township home where 17-month-old Semaj Crosby was found dead on April 26. | Photo provided by Will County Land Use Department.

Semaj’s mother, the suit states, “had cognitive limitations, and this interfered with coordinating the children’s medical appointments and care.”

Semaj’s family reported the child missing a day after the visit from the CHA caseworker, prompting a massive search in the area. Investigators first believed that the child had wandered off or was abducted.

Eventually, police sought to search the home, but police said a lawyer for Gordon wouldn’t let them do so until they obtained a search warrant, which they did.

Semaj was then found dead under a couch. The lawsuit states that investigators with the Will County Sheriff’s Office had to wear HazMat suits when searching the home “due to the filthy, unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”

The home was deemed uninhabitable the next day. It burned to the ground on May 6. Dan Jungles, deputy chief of the Will County Sheriff’s Office, previously told the Sun-Times that “There’s no doubt this is an arson case.”

The Joliet house where Semaj Crosby was found dead burned down May 6, 2017, weeks after her death. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

The suit states that CHA was appointed to work with Semaj’s family in September 2016. DCFS noted in a report released last year that information about the family was not efficiently shared within the agency and its contractors.

“It is not clear that all pertinent information regarding the children’s mother and caregivers residing in the family home was clarified and processed between the investigation teams and the intact family team,” the report stated.

Will County court records show Semaj’s father filed a petition last May for custody of the three other children he has with Gordon. That case is still pending. Records show Gordon was nearly evicted from her previous home for overcrowding.

The status of the investigation into the child’s death remains unclear. A representative from the Will County Sheriff’s Office did not return messages Tuesday.

Semaj Crosby’s memorial program. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Earlier this year, though, Will County authorities said Semaj’s death remains a high priority, though little progress has been made in recent months.

That’s because the five persons of interest in the case — Gordon, Semaj’s grandmother, aunt and two other people — all retained attorneys before the toddler’s body was even found, according to police.

Jungles said the couch Semaj was found under weighed more than 100 pounds.

“There is no physical way that that child got under that couch without someone putting her there,” he said. “When we found her, it was a punch in the gut to everybody.”