Suffolk County to probe CPS after 8-year-old boy apparently froze in garage

CENTER MORICHES, Long Island (WABC) -- Suffolk County announced Tuesday it is launching an internal probe of its Department of Social Services after an 8-year-old boy was allegedly left in the garage overnight in frigid temperatures and died of hypothermia.

Thomas Valva, a third-grader at East Moriches Elementary School who had autism, 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.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that members of the Internal Review Committee will perform a top to bottom review of the case in the Department of Social Services, which confirmed it had previously had contact with the family after allegations of child neglect.

"Whenever something like this happens, a tragedy like this, that is the moment for you really to take a hard look at how things are working, how things are operating," he told said.

Bellone said the internal review, which will be overseen by the new Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner, will examine how the department, namely the county's Child Protective Services, handled the Valva case. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office are also being called in to assist in the investigation.

Bellone said committee members will recommend any changes to existing policies, procedures or regulations that should be implemented in order to prevent future tragedies.

"As county executive, I want to know that we're doing everything that is necessary to protect kids," he said.

Related: Grieving mom of boy who froze to death says she reported abuse by cop dad, fiancee, for a year

Officials said safeguards were put in place, and Commissioner Frances Pierre promised a full investigation to ensure protocols were followed.

Pierre issued the following statement:

"The Department of Social Services is heartbroken by the passing of Thomas Valva. Department personnel are continuing to provide all available information on this matter to law enforcement and will continue to cooperate fully throughout the investigation. Suffolk County Child Protective Services has had involvement with the Valva/Pollina family. Petitions for child neglect were filed in Suffolk County Family Court in 2018. 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. Subsequent to the expiration of the order of protection, CPS investigated additional complaints relating to the family. DSS is formally reviewing the management of the case to ensure that all protocols were followed in accordance with the law. Due to confidentiality mandates and the nature of this ongoing investigation, the Department cannot comment further at this time."

In addition to the Internal Review Committee, Bellone announced the establishment of an external task force to review all Child Protective Services policies and procedures as they relate to children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

"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."

Hundreds came together at a candlelight vigil to mourn Valva, who authorities say was frequently abused and forced along with his 10-year-old brother Anthony to sleep in the garage without blankets or pillows.

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."

The child's mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, said her son was a happy boy who loved playing outside. She said the abuse was prevalent.

"Nobody did anything," the boy's mother Justyna Zuubko-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."

Meanwhile, another vigil for Thomas Valva was held Tuesday night in Center Moriches. It was the third vigil to be held in the area in the past few days.

Pastor Sharon Pizzo of the Center Moriches United Methodist Church said God called her to hold the vigil because she knows people in the community are in pain and are angry.

"We want to make this a safe night, where people can come, where prayerfully they can release their burdens to God," she said.

The Center Moriches Volunteer Fire Department is holding a fundraiser for Thomas's mother Wednesday night from 5-8 p.m.

Viewings will be held Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. 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.

The defense denied the accusations, calling them pure speculation and maintaining Michael 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.

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