An NYPD officer and his fiancée were charged last week with second degree murder in the death of the officer's eight-year-old son. The circumstances around that death have since emerged: authorities say that Michael Valva and Angela Pollina allegedly locked Valva's son Thomas in the couple’s unheated Long Island garage overnight. The Suffolk County medical examiner found that hypothermia was a major contributing factor to his death.
According to the Times, Suffolk County district attorney Timothy Sini described the killing as “one of the worst crimes I’ve ever seen," noting: “The depravity of these defendants is shocking. They caused the death of this little boy and then they watched him die.”
Valva, who joined the NYPD in 2005 and was most recently assigned to the transit bureau, has been suspended since his arrest.
Police initially had responded to a report that an eight-year-old “fell in the driveway of the residence” at the couple's Bittersweet Lane home in Center Moriches around 9:40 a.m. on January 17th. But investigators believe that Valva, 40, and Pollina, 42, had hidden the real cause of the child's condition. “Thomas Valva was subjected to freezing temperatures in the home’s unheated garage overnight when the outside temperature was 19 degrees,” said Geraldine Hart, the Suffolk County police commissioner. “We have determined Thomas was never in the driveway that morning, and he suffered head and facial injuries that were not consistent with the father’s account."
The boy's mother, 36-year-old Justyna Zubko-Valva, told Newsday that her son, who was a second grader at East Moriches Elementary School, had a mild form of autism. Zubko-Valva is in the midst of a divorce from Valva, who had full custody of their three boys, including Thomas; Valva and Pollina lived with six children altogether, including Pollina's three daughters from a separate relationship. Zubko-Valva told the paper she hadn't seen any of her kids for two years.
During the divorce proceedings, Zubko-Valva accused Valva of abusing the kids, citing a 2018 report from a school psychologist that said that Thomas and his 10-year-old brother Anthony “come into school hungry” and that Anthony, who also has autism, had “lost a significant amount of weight.”
The NY Post reports that the state’s Office of Children and Family Services had recorded a complaint in February 2019 that Anthony was forced to sleep in the garage because he was urinating in his bed.
Amanda Wildman, who said she worked for Valva and Pollina as a nanny from 2017 to 2018, told the Times that the three boys were treated more harshly than the three girls: “They were just always very verbally abusive,” Wildman said. “I’ve never seen them put their hands on them, but they were always very assertive. It was sad.”
The Times also reports that police have a snippet of audio recorded from security camera equipment in the home the day Thomas was locked in the garage, in which Valva was allegedly heard saying that he was “suffocating him, that’s what I’m doing.”
Officials noted that the other five kids have been placed in a “safe environment” for the time being.