Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Ex-NYPD officer found guilty of autistic son’s murder after he froze to death in garage

Thomas Valva suffered an episode of hypothermia after he was forced to sleep in a freezing garage

Andrea Blanco
Friday 09 December 2022 16:08 GMT
Related: DNA in fingernails leads to arrest in brutal 1980 murder

A former NYPD officer has been convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his eight-year-old son.

A jury in Long Island also found Michael Valva, 43, guilty of four counts of child endangerment following the 2020 incident in which his son, Thomas Valva, died of hypothermia after he was forced to sleep in a freezing garage where temperatures dropped under 20 degrees.

Valva was accused of subjecting his three sons to neglect and cruelty amid a bitter divorce and custody battle with their mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on 8 December, the Associated Press reported.

His then-fiancée 45-year-old Angela Pollina, who also faces second-degree murder and child endangerment charges, is accused of having sprayed Thomas with cold water during the 16-hour torture while Valva worked the night shift as an NYPD officer, according to Newsday. Authorities testifying in the trial said that the couple would often force the brothers to sleep in the garage while naked and without blankets as part of cruel punishments.

On the day of the child’s death on 17 January 2020 Valva did not help Thomas and later lied to authorities investigating the crime, prosecutors said.

Thomas’ organs shut down hours later at the hospital.

Thomas Valva died of hypothermia after he was forced to sleep in the freexing garage of his father’s Long Island home (Justice for Thomas Valva )

“While there is nothing that we can do to bring Thomas back, we are satisfied with the jury’s decision,’ Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said in a statement. “Michael Valva subjected his sons to horrific abuse, neglect and cruelty. He will now pay for cutting short the life of a young, innocent, defenseless boy who had a lifetime ahead of him.”

Valva’s lawyer attempted to argue that he felt intimidated by “wicked stepmother” Pollina and that she had been the culprit mastermind behind the cruel punishments.

“Whether it’s wrong, angers you, makes you irate, the facts don’t make out murder,” Valva’s attorney said, according to FOX.

In court, school officials also testified that the Valva children often attended class soaked in urine and faeces and that they appeared to have scratches and bruises across their faces and arms. A teacher told the court that Thomas was so emaciated, that he would eat crumbs off the school floor.

Teachers reportedly “flooded” CPS lines and the children’s mother said she sent the department a flash drive with 320 files of evidence of abuse, but an investigation into the abuse Valva was accused of taking part in was closed just ten days before Thomas’s death.

Ms Zubko-Valva has been outspoken about her fight with the court system to gain full custody of her children. In a video posted by Ms Zubko-Valva in 2018, one of the children tells their mother that “daddy is going to put me outside” and “in the backyard” if they say that they love their mother.

Following Thomas’ death, Ms Zubko-Valva filed a $200m wrongful death suit against CPS caseworkers and investigators, school officials at East Moriches Union Free School District, her children’s attorneys in the custody battle and Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman. Pollina and Valva are also named in the suit.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, but a judge ruled in June that some parts of the suit could proceed.

According to Ms Zubko-Valva’s lawsuit, “Tommy’s death was not only foreseeable but completely preventable.”

Michael Valva, 43 (Michael Valva/ Suffolk County )

“For over three years, Plaintiff Justyna Zubko Valva begged, implored and pleaded with Defendants to remove Tommy, as well as his two brothers, Anthony and Andrew,” the filing, reviewed by The Independent reads, “from the custody of [Valva and Pollina] who had abused, starved and tortured the children for years. The Defendants did nothing.”

Thomas’ teacher Michelle Cagliano told the court Thomas was hungry so often that she decided to keep journal entries every time he asked for food, according to the New York Post. She often gave him snacks and sent him to the cafeteria, but would later face disapproval from Pollina, who allegedly said Thomas was “manipulative” and a “liar.”

In one instance, Ms Cagliano recalled before the court, she gave Thomas a pear and cracker after he soiled his pants in 2018, which unleashed Pollina’s rage. “She was not happy with me,” Ms Cagliano said.

Edward Schneyer, the school’s principal, also said during the month-long trial that the children often arrived at school with scratches on their faces, their cheeks red and cold to the touch. The principal said that the reports to CPS led to accusations from Valva that school officials were harassing his family.

“We felt as a team we were not getting the results we wanted to see,” Mr Schneyer said. “We decided as a team we were going to just flood the CPS hotline with calls.”

According to a 2020 indictment, Patch reported that the children slept in a room that had no access to a bathroom. The garage was often referred to as “the children’s room.” Any time they soiled themselves, they were punished by being forced to sleep on the floor without blankets or pillows, prosecutors said.

A Suffolk County assistant district attorney at the time also said that a video of Thomas was recorded as he was shaking on the cold floor “with pleading eyes for someone to help him.”

(CBS New York)

Text messages around the time of Thomas’ death also show that Ms Pollina allegedly sent a video of the boy to his father before going to bed, and asking whether she should send him to school the next morning. Mr Valva allegedly answered: “F*** that piece of s*** Thomas. He’s not going anywhere.”

On the eve of Thomas’ death, Ms Pollina reportedly sent videos of Thomas lying in the cold and freezing to Valva, local journalist Lisa Finn reported on Patch after the couple was indicted in 2020.

When paramedics arrived the next morning, it was 19 degrees outside and they found Thomas naked, with no blankets and his sweatpants pulled down to his knees.

Pollina had been doing her hair and as EMTs tried to bring his pulse back, Valva reportedly showed no emotion, according to Patch.

When pressed on how he felt about the situation, he allegedly said he had been through more stressful circumstances,

Thomas died at the hospital from organ failure caused by hypothermia.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in