Father sues foster care alternative after daughter killed in motel room

CHICAGO, Illinois -- A father is suing a program that he said ignored his rights as a parent when it released the baby to her mother, now accused in the toddler's death.

Justin Freeman said the program that is an alternative to foster care refused to release 9-month-old Cherish Freeman to his custody.

Cherish died allegedly as a result of her mother's actions inside a Joliet motel room on December 20, 2017. The baby had just been released into Shanquilla Garvey's custody against the father's wishes.

"I love my daughter and I miss her dearly," Freeman said. "This shouldn't have happened to her."

Temporarily unable to care for her themselves, Freeman said he and Cherish's mother voluntarily checked their daughter into the Safe Families for Children program in September. The organization is an independent non-profit based out of Chicago's northwest side.

Speaking to ABC7 in court as he filed a lawsuit against them on Wednesday, Freeman accused the organization of negligence by refusing to release Cherish to him without the mother's consent once he got a job, but then turning around and giving the baby to the mother without his.

"He knew it was a bad environment that she was in and who she was hanging around with, and there were previous allegations against her with the father of her other children," attorney Kevin O'Connor said. "He expressed that concern and that concern went ignored."

"If custody had been placed with him instead of the mother, the child would be alive now," attorney Jeffery Leving said.

In a statement Wednesday, Safe Families for Children would not comment on the lawsuit saying only "we were deeply saddened to hear about the recent death of Cherish...parents voluntarily seek our help and retain full custody of their children. At any point in a hosting, parents can request that their children return home."

The baby's mother was charged with aggravated battery. She was denied bail and is in custody at the Will County Jail.
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