What to Know
- An NYPD officer and his fiancee face charges in the death of his 8-year-old son at their Long Island home
- At the time of little Thomas Valva's death last week, police were called to the Center Moriches residence for a fall in the driveway
- Audio files from the home recorded the couple saying the child was hypothermic, couldn't walk and was "face-planting" on concrete
The mother of a Long Island boy who died after a long pattern of abuse lashed out at the family courts that kept the 8-year-old in his father’s custody.
“They caused my son to die because they did absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening,” Justyna Zubko-Valva said Monday. “God only knows the severity of the abuse. They’re going to need long-term therapy with a good specialist.”
The grieving mother was in family court in an attempt to get temporary custody of her two surviving sons — from the same system she says failed to protect them and little Thomas Valva from continuous abuse allegedly at the hands of their father, Michael Valva, and his fiancée Angela Pollina.
Suffolk Police say Thomas died after being forced to sleep in an unheated garage in 19-degree temperatures. NYPD Officer Michael Valva, 40, and Pollina, 42, are both charged with second-degree murder in Thomas Valva’s death, and were arraigned on more charges Monday, accusing them of neglecting and abusing all six of their children.
The pair appeared in family court with their hands shackled behind them as a judge granted temporary custody to Zubko-Valva, who has been reconnecting with her sons.
Later Monday night, it was announced that an internal review had been launched into Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services handling of Thomas Valva’s case. There will also be an external review of all Child Protective Services policies and procedures relating to children with autism and other developmental disabilities, County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.
“As a parent, I am horrified by what happened to this beautiful boy,” Bellone said.“As County Executive, I want to know if there’s anything else that could have been done under existing law to prevent this from happening. Beyond that, I want to know if anything in this case suggests that changes should be made to existing policy or law.”
The announcement came has hundreds gathered at St. John the Evangelist Church in the town to remember the boy.
Meanwhile, a family advocacy group began calling for discipline or dismissal of the judges the group says were negligent in Thomas Valva’s case.
A man who is the father of one of Pollina’s three daughters said he has been trying to warn people for “a long time” about the abuse Pollina would do onto the girls. The three girls lived in the same Center Moriches house as the Valva boys.
“I would watch Angela physically abuse her twin girls before the boys were involved, before my daughter was even involved,” Gino Cali said.
Cali and another man are fighting for custody of their daughters they had with Pollina. Child Protective Services recommended the fathers be awarded custody, but the judge ordered a hearing because neither of the men has seen his daughter (or daughters) for three years. Cali also tested positive for marijuana before Monday's court appearance.
“There's not been one day I haven’t wanted to be in my daughter's life,” Cali said.
Investigators said they used video and audio from cameras inside the Center Moriches house to confirm a pattern of abuse against Thomas and an older brother, both of whom had been diagnosed with autism.
Cops responding to the scene at his Center Moriches home last week initially were responding to reports of a boy who had fallen in the driveway. Suffolk County Police homicide detectives had been investigating his death since. According to police, by the time Thomas Valva got to a hospital his body temperature was only 76 degrees, possibly indicating an earlier time of death.
A neighbor told News 4 that she once worked as a nanny in the family's home, and while they were verbally abusive, she "never thought it would end in somebody's death."
Thomas Valva's biological mother, Justyna, alleged a track record of "enormous abuse" by her ex-husband, with whom she has two other children. She said she at one point lost custody of all three kids, though didn't elaborate on the reasoning — and alleged her ex tortured the trio, starving and beating them and locking them in the garage for periods of time. Justyna Valva said the children would go to school soiled and wearing diapers, even though all had been potty trained by age 2.
They looked for food in the school garbage and on the floor, Justyna Valva said as she choked back tears, claiming "no one did anything" to help. Justyna Valva said she fought in the court system for five years to get justice for her children — and now her 8-year-old boy has lost his life.
She also said that the abuse was ignored when she lost custody during a bitter divorce battle. Suffolk Police say those claims are being investigated.
According to the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, petitions for child neglect were filed in 2018 and that "safeguards ordered to protect the children included court-ordered home supervision for a period of one year, Orders of Protection for the parents to refrain from harmful behaviors towards the children and mandated participation in a Positive Parenting Program had been put in place."
However, subsequent additional complaints related to the Valva/Pollina family were investigated, according to a department statement, which added that the department "is formally reviewing the management of the case to ensure that all protocols were followed in accordance with the law."
There was a previous report of a welfare check in May 2019, police said. When authorities arrived, the family wasn't home; neighbors told police they were in Queens. Suffolk County cops didn't say if police ever followed up.
Justyna Valva described her ex-husband, who worked in the NYPD for 15 years in transit, as "extremely unpredictable" and said he had trouble controlling his anger. The department said he had been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.