Confession time: I’m way behind with posting updates on the case of Thomas Valva, the 8-year-old autistic Long Island boy who died of hypothermia on January 17, 2020 after his NYPD officer father and his fiancee allegedly forced him and his 10-year-old brother to spend the night in the family’s garage on a night when temperatures dropped to 19 degrees Fahrenheit (about -7 degrees Celsius).
To make up for that, this will be a multiple update round-up. Let’s start with a heartbreakingly sweet video posted to YouTube on January 30, 2020 by Thomas’s mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, entitled “In Honor of My Little Angel Thomas.” The description below the video reads:
“It broke our hearts to lose you, but you did not go alone. A part of us went with you, the day God took you home. If tears could build a stairway, and heartaches make a lane, we’d walk our way to heaven, and bring you back again. In life we loved you dearly, in death we love you still, in our hearts you hold a place NO ONE could ever fill…Rest peacefully in heaven our sweet little angel. We love you so much and miss you.”
What a sweet, precious little man. I get tears in my eyes every time I watch that video. I know the tune all too well; my older son was a huge (HUGE) One Direction fan back in the day, so the song Thomas plays in that video used to blare through my house on a regular basis (and, truth be told, still gets played in the car on occasion). Hearing Thomas’s little voice in a duet with his mommy just tears my heart open.
Another video shows Thomas drawing a picture for his mom and the boys enjoying Kinder Surprise eggs while interacting with Justyna.
The next update concerns Thomas’s “allegedly” evil father, Michael Valva, who has been held without bail in New York’s Suffolk County Jail since he and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, were arrested on January 24.
In court on February 24, Michael, whose original attorney has withdrawn from the case due to a possible conflict of interest, claimed destitution, saying he can neither find nor afford a new attorney. During the hearing, Michael wore the same black v-neck t-shirt and blue jeans he wore when he was arrested.
The judge told him, “Any idea that you would represent yourself would be a fool’s errand.”
Michael’s response was, “I just don’t have the funds, and I have no idea how to represent myself.”
Justyna, who is over four years into a highly acrimonious divorce from Michael, disagrees, saying, “Constant excuses, that he doesn’t have money; he does have the funds.”
Those allegations are not entirely unfounded; Justyna received Michael’s bank records at one point during the divorce proceedings that indicated he had received multiple large cash deposits that are both inexplicable and concerning, considering he was employed as an NYPD traffic cop.
Michael reportedly received a letter from the city of New York declaring him AWOL from his employment as transit officer which, according to his former attorney, means he is virtually penniless. This made him eligible for a court-appointed lawyer, which outraged Justyna.
“Court-appointed private attorney that obviously, as the taxpayers, we all pay for the attorney appointed to the murderer of my son,” she told reporters. “And that’s not acceptable.” Saying Michael was hiding money, Justyna, near tears, added, “The court failed to completely investigate his financial situation… I’m doubting that justice is going to be served at this point.”
Justyna has temporary custody of her other two sons with Michael, six-year-old Andrew and 10-year-old Anthony.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds of the Family & Children’s Association is of the opinion that there are multiple reasons Thomas fell through the cracks of the various systems tasked with maintaining the safety of children. The reasons include the couple’s bitter divorce, abuse allegations from both sides, the children being coached to lie, a lack of cooperation with Child Protective Services, and overworked judges failing to see the full picture of the family dynamic.
“See a very nice house in which a law enforcement officer resided, and say, ‘You know what? Things are probably okay,’” Dr. Reynolds said.
Things inside the Valva home, which was outfitted with a comprehensive video and audio surveillance system, were most definitely not okay. Justyna said, “I am enormously concerned. I was told… by the district attorney’s office that they cannot get the images, the video images from the day that Tommy died.”
On the morning of Thomas’s death, Angela Pollina gave investigators the passwords to the security system, but once police logged in, they said, they saw video files disappearing before their eyes as if being remotely deleted.
Records show that between 2015 and 2019, police departments in both Suffolk and Nassau Counties received a startling 33 calls to 911, summoning officers to either the former marital home in Valley Stream or the house in Center Moriches where Michael and Angela lived with their blended family of six children. Most of these calls were regarding visitation and custody issues.
In Suffolk County, Justyna claims she was treated by responding officers with hostile attitudes who yelled at her, included false statements in their reports, denied her the ability to file her own written reports, and even threatened her on one occasion. She also claims she was ignored when she tried to make formal complaints in the matter, which she feels was due to Michael’s own status as an NYPD officer.
Suffolk police officials failed to respond to a Newsday inquiry including Justyna’s specific allegations regarding her various interactions and experiences with police, although they provided a written statement saying they were investigating.
“The death of Thomas Valva is unconscionable and the Suffolk County Police Department sympathizes with Justyna Zubko-Valva’s loss,” the statement read. “The Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau is currently reviewing all interactions and reports regarding this case. Our officers are trained to investigate each case without bias and on its own merit. Due to the ongoing criminal and internal investigations currently being conducted, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
At another hearing on February 27, Justyna laid the verbal smackdown on Donna McCabe, the boys’ former court-appointed attorney, who stepped down from her role in the divorce case. For years, Ms. McCabe vouched for Michael Valva and Angela Pollina, insisting to the court that all three of Justyna’s sons had a wonderful home life with their father. She even gave various judges her opinion that Michael should retain custody of the three boys, who were removed from their mother’s custody in September of 2017 due to unsubstantiated abuse allegations he leveled against Justyna.
The whole time Ms. McCabe advocated for Michael to have full custody of the boys — which was not her job; her job was to advocate for those boys, not their father — red flags were popping up left and right. Justyna reported abuse multiple times, and even the boys’ school repeatedly called the child abuse hotline to report that Anthony and Thomas frequently came to school in diapers or urine-soaked clothing, were always hungry and even scrounged through the garbage for scraps, were losing weight, and had visible injuries from abuse.
Donna Marie Mccabe is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State in 1985. The registration number with NYS Office of Court Administration (OCA) is #1989144. The company or organization that Donna Marie Mccabe serves is Law Office of Donna M. Mccabe. The office address is 1305 Franklin Ave Ste 200, Garden City, NY 11530-1630. The phone number is (516) 590-0077. The law school graduated is Fordham.
I certainly hope Donna McCabe heard the biting comments Justyna gave about her outside that court hearing and that those words cut deep, because as far as I’m concerned, Ms. McCabe has a special place in hell waiting for her. “Obviously, she knows that the public are seeing her criminal actions, seeing what she’s done,” Justyna told reporters after the hearing. “Her criminal actions caused the death of my son Tommy, and unfortunately, she’s gonna have to respond in front of God for what she’s done.”
Justyna continued, “I actually petitioned to move the court in at least three different motions to remove her immediately for the damage she has done for all those years toward me and my children for hiding their severe abuse. Unfortunately, she was too protected; the corruption was too enormous for any judge to just let her off the case.”
It would be a small consolation, but a consolation nonetheless, if Ms. McCabe someday faced charges relating to her role in Thomas’s death.
Just to veer off on a small tangent, if anyone is interested in seeing more photos of the interior of the Valva-Pollina home, here is a Zillow listing of the home from 2017.
On Sunday, March 1, hundreds of blue-clad supporters gathered at A.J. Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream, New York for the “Justice for Thomas” walk. Many of the attendees wore t-shirts or carried signs demanding justice in Thomas’s case; some brought toys and gifts for Anthony and Andrew. Valley Stream mayor Edwin Fare presented Justyna and the boys with a giant golden ticket to participate in the town’s summer recreation program, Camp Barrett.
Justyna told reporters during the gathering that the location was Thomas’s favorite park. “We used to come here every day in the summertime. This park was absolutely a beautiful place for them to run, ride their scooters, their bicycles. Tommy loved to play outside.”
At the gathering, a plaque was dedicated in Thomas’s memory beneath a weeping cherry tree. “It’s in the best spot, overlooking the pond,” Justyna said. “Tommy used to love watching the water, going to the beach, the lake, the pond.”
She told the attendees that Thomas was with them at the gathering. “You can tell,” she said. “The sun is shining so bright.”
While attendees placed white carnations beneath Thomas’s tree, his ten-year-old brother Anthony read from the plaque, “The loss is immeasurable.”
His mother whispered, “We love you, Tommy.”
Justyna took a moment to address her supporters in the crowd.
“I’m so thankful for everyone I’ve met during this journey, who is fighting for justice for Tommy,” Justyna said. “Because it is Tommy. Through the hands of God, he has touched so many hearts. He’s already made so many changes. And we cannot stop.”
On March 4, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone unveiled the results of a pair of month-long reviews, internal and external, of CPS’s handling of Thomas’s case, as well as six proposed laws to prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future.
The task force established to conduct the external review essentially found that CPS failed Thomas and overlooked glaring indicators of abuse in the Valva home.
“The most important finding of the task force is that this system is just not set up to effectively protect kids on the autism spectrum or other kids with developmental disabilities,” Bellone said. “Once these reforms are adopted and fully implemented, CPS will never operate the same way again, and that is appropriate, because what happened to Thomas Valva can never happen again.”
Together, the proposed bills have been called the CPS Transformation Act, and they are designed to improve oversight to prevent other vulnerable children like Thomas from falling through the cracks.
According to Bellone, the first bill will allow the creation of a specialized CPS team to oversee cases involving children with autism or other developmental disabilities. These children are more likely to be abused and their cases more difficult to investigate.
The second bill will mandate more training on autism, investigating cases, and identifying one’s own bias for all CPS workers. The implicit bias toward Michael Valva as a law enforcement officer living in a large, beautiful home very likely contributed to the avalanche of bad legal decisions that led to Thomas’s death.
The third bill will mandate increased scrutiny for cases reported by school officials.
The fourth bill will make it a crime to record CPS interviews with children without first obtaining the consent of the investigator.
The fifth bill will establish caseload standards for CPS caseworkers in Suffolk County, maxing each caseworker at 12 cases per month.
Under the final bill in the package, caseloads and staffing levels will be published on the county website.
Critics of the proposed laws suggest these measures are nowhere near enough, and in a statement, Justyna herself called the changes unacceptable.
“This law is outrageous, not acceptable and allows for the corruption to increase in measure, and the victims of this abusive system to be more victimized and harmed as I and my children were for years that led to my son Thomas’s brutal murder by Michael Valva and Angela Pollina, who were assured that their criminal and abusive actions will always be justified by the corruptive system and individuals involved in this case. The corruption is not going to stop if the individuals who were involved in purposely hiding the severe abuse of my children and me are not going to be held accountable for their criminal actions to the highest extent of the law. The corruption is not going to stop if this system is not going to be fixed immediately. The CPS caseworkers, attorneys for the children, forensic evaluators have to wear body cameras during all their interactions with the children and parties involved. The Court proceedings should be video recorded to avoid manipulation with the court transcripts and fight the corruption in the justice system. Those are the basic steps that will initiate the fight against this enormous corruption and will protect the children and all the innocent people involved.”
A prominent criminal defense attorney, John LoTurco, has been appointed to represent Michael Valva and will be paid $75 an hour to the accused murderer, which several other lawyers refused to do.
For his part, LoTurco fits the part of the slimy, smarmy defense attorney to a T. He even provided Michael with a suit and collared shirt from his own home to wear to court. “Michael Valva is emotionally distraught over the death of his son Thomas Valva. However, we contend that Thomas’s death was a nightmarish accidental death and clearly not a murder,” LoTurco told reporters, reading from a written statement. “Michael Valva is now being portrayed as a monster, when in actuality he’s a caring father of three boys and his fiancee’s three daughters.”
No word on whether any of said reporters were injured by the violent and involuntary rolling of their eyes in response.
In fact, while LoTurco read his statement, bystanders heckled him loudly. Ha!
The defense attorney says Michael is on suicide watch, confined to his cell 23 hours a day, and under constant monitoring in jail.
LoTurco, who will be assisted with the case by defense attorney Anthony LaPinta, believes the jury pool has been tainted by the high profile nature of the case and hopes to obtain a change of venue. “The media, his estranged wife, and the Suffolk County district attorney has vilified him and sensationalized this story whereby it is almost impossible to obtain a fair trial in this jurisdiction on his behalf. Nonetheless, we vow to provide him with the most zealous representation possible.”
He also claimed that the garage where Thomas and Anthony were isolated was unlocked, providing the boys with unfettered access to the house, and that a large electric space heater was plugged in, providing them with heat. “The space heater was turned on that night,” LoTurco said, “and we will have the space heater examined.” Grasping at straws much, buddy?
As for why the boys were sleeping in the garage in the first place, LoTurco squirmed his way out of answering by saying, “This case has psychological complexities that we will discuss at a later time.” He added that Michael will undergo a forensic examination. Of course he will.
As for Angela’s attorney, Matthew Tuohy, he’s trying to dump all of the blame for Thomas’s death on Michael, saying Angela was “warned not to interfere with him and the household situation” and that she had to “navigate around” Michael’s “emotions, temper, and behavior.”
I honestly can’t imagine how these two shitty human impersonators could possibly think they’ll get away with what they’ve done, especially considering some of the evidence prosecutors have against them. From video of Thomas shivering on the bare concrete in the garage to text messages calling Thomas a “piece of shit” (that one was from his own father) and discussing starving him, beating him, and denying him bathroom access, not to mention the audio recording police found from the morning of Thomas’s death when Michael mocked Thomas for being hypothermic — “boo-fucking-hoo,” anyone? — and flat-out told Angela he was trying to suffocate the kid, it would take a literal miracle to convince anyone that the demonic duo were anything but guilty of Thomas’s murder.
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini released a statement on Monday, March 9 announcing his intention to empanel a special grand jury to investigate Thomas’s death.
“It is clear that it is appropriate and in the public’s interest to convene a Special Grand Jury to conduct a thorough investigation of all the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas Valva, which will have the legal ability to issue a Special Grand Jury Report at the culmination of the investigation,” the statement read. “I have instructed my team to begin the process of working with the Court to convene such a grand jury.”
Sini’s statement added that after Thomas’s death, he assembled a team of “expert prosecutors in the area of child abuse and child fatalities to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas” and that his office’s investigation thus far has included reviewing a large number of records and interviewing numerous witnesses.
Depending on the findings of its investigation, a special grand jury could recommend reforms to the system on various issues, including the role of CPS, the court, and law enforcement in regard to child abuse and custody cases.
Steve Bellone weighed in again after Sini’s announcement issuing another statement that read in part: “I applaud District Attorney Tim Sini for convening a special grand jury and I am confident this action will be a catalyst to implement additional, necessary reforms.”
Finally, the last update comes from a two-part video Justyna uploaded to YouTube in response to the utter bullshit being spouted by Michael’s attorney, LoTurco. She questioned her six-year-old son, Andrew, about the conditions in Michael and Angela’s home, including whether or not the garage contained a space heater, how the boys were punished and for what infractions, and if Thomas and Anthony had any visible injuries. The sweet little guy had plenty to tell her.
Justyna, who is an absolute legend — nay, the woman is a fucking legit hero — has gone all the way to the top in every possible way in her attempts to save her sons. She wrote to U.S. Attorney General William Barr seeking help in her case. She wrote to President Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. She filed complaints with the U.S. attorney’s office against judges and lawyers in her divorce and family court cases. She filed complaints with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, alleging police misconduct. She filed a complaint with the Nassau County district attorney’s office. She’s been nothing short of a pit bull with lockjaw, and I am truthfully amazed by her tenacity and perseverance.
Using thousands of pages of documents from the case, Newsday put together a comprehensive and easy-to-follow timeline of the various incidents and investigations leading up to Thomas’s death.
I can’t say this enough: I am in absolute awe of Justyna’s commitment to creating actual, meaningful changes in the systems that were supposed to, but clearly didn’t, protect Thomas. Her strength and ferocity have made her a role model for all of us to follow in this never-ending fight against child abuse and injustice.
I’ll end the article with one more video from Justyna, who uploaded this to YouTube on the one month anniversary of Thomas’s death. Hearing Andrew and Anthony talk about how much they miss their brother is just one more gut-wrenching reminder of why we can never stop fighting to save kids like Thomas.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Thomas’s case.
Sources: YouTube, CBS New York, New York Daily News, Patch.com, Newsday