Protesters want judges out after 8-year-old boy froze in Long Island garage

CENTER MORICHES, Long Island (WABC) -- A rally was held outside Nassau County court Wednesday morning, with protesters demanding the removal of three judges involved in the case of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

They say the family court system is corrupt after the East Moriches Elementary School student was allegedly left in the garage overnight in frigid temperatures and died of hypothermia.

He was found unresponsive at his home on Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches on Friday, January 17, and was later pronounced dead at Long Island Community Hospital.

His father, 42-year-old NYPD officer Michael Valva, and his fiancee, 42-year-old Angela Pollina, are now charged with second-degree murder with depraved indifference to human life. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Thomas Vavla's mother says she complained to authorities for years about alleged abuse her son suffered and that nothing was done.

"Nobody did anything," Justyna Zubko-Valva said. "I tried, I fought so hard to, you know, fought for justice for my children...It shouldn't get to the point that, you know, my son lost his life to actually for somebody to do something."

Michael Valva and Pollina had full custody of Thomas and his 10-year-old brother Anthony, and both children were reportedly forced to sleep in the garage without pillows or blankets. The temperature was just 19 degrees on the night Thomas died, and authorities say his body temperature was 76 degrees when he arrived at the hospital.

"The death of Thomas Valva is an unimaginable tragedy," said Lucian Chalfen, Director of Public Information for the state Office of Court Administration. "The individuals who were directly involved in his death have been arrested and will face accountability. However, other than the parties directly involved in both the matrimonial and custody cases, no one has any knowledge of the facts and circumstances, along with the emotional issues and inevitable complexities, that lead to the decisions made by three separate judges, in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, during their numerous court appearances."

Viewings were being held Wednesday at the Mangano Family Funeral Home on Deer Park Avenue in Deer Park. A funeral will be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church on Wolf Hill Road in Melville, with burial to follow at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale.

"I just want to say thank you for everybody's outpouring love, support in this extremely, extremely difficult time for me and my family," Zubko-Valva said at the funeral home. "He already made so many changes in people's hearts that I truly think are going to stay for the rest of the life with those who care about the children, who wants the change."

Scores of people, many of them strangers, showed up to pay their respects.

"I dropped off toys for the children, some food for the family, because my heart really breaks for them," North Babylon resident Maria Campo said.

Valva's open casket was surrounded by sweet memories of the fun-loving boy. Substitute teacher Julea Montalbano saw the third grader just recently.

"He was just so sweet, so kind, so loving," she said. "We really had a really close connection right from the start, so it was very, very heartbreaking."

Police say Michael Valva had called 911 and said his son had fallen in the driveway while waiting for the school bus and was unconscious. When police arrived, Valva was performing CPR on Thomas in the basement.

"We 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," Hart said.

Police made the arrest after reviewing home security surveillance video, and prosecutors say each room of the house had a camera that was labeled. They said the camera in the garage was low to the ground and pointed toward the floor with the label "the kids' room."

They said video from the two previous nights showed Thomas and Anthony sleeping on the garage floor, shivering.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said during the arraignment of Valva and Pollina late Friday that audio files recovered from the home recorded the couple discussing the fact that the child was suffering from hypothermia, had been washed with cold water, couldn't walk and was "face-planting" on the concrete on the morning he was killed.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said he had listened to the audio himself.

"I can't describe it in words," he said. "The depravity of these defendants is shocking."

Authorities are still investigating whether a 6-year-old brother was also abused, and if Pollina's three children -- 11-year-old twins and 6-year-old -- had suffered any abuse. All five children are now at a safe location.

The defense denied the accusations, calling them pure speculation and maintaining Valva's innocence. He was remanded without bail.

Valva, who joined the NYPD in 2005 and is assigned to transit, has been suspended without pay, the department said.

The case has prompted Suffolk County to order a "top-to-bottom" internal probe of its Department of Social Services.

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