N.Y.P.D. officer charged with murder of Autistic son

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ASPartOfMe
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11 Feb 2020, 7:12 am

EzraS wrote:
I have read a lot of testimony from school staff describing obvious abuse and neglect over a substantial period of time - and I keep wondering where CPS (child protection services) was. Did no one alert CPS? Or did CPS not respond properly?

The judge who ordered custody to the father's fault and CPS's fault.
The children were given an order of protection for a year by the department of social services but that apparently was not renewed.
As I said earlier I believe stereotyping played a role. Dad is an NYPD cop, mom is an immigrant. Also there is always extreme reluctance to break up a family.


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14 Feb 2020, 11:55 pm

That's all over the headlines where I am, surprised to find this out.



ASPartOfMe
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15 Feb 2020, 10:39 pm

Link below behind a paywall
Documents show systems failed to protect 8-year-old Thomas Valva

Quote:
Thomas Valva’s mother was so desperate to protect her young sons from harm that she took her case to the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Justyna Zubko-Valva wrote a detailed 75-page letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr in July asking for the Justice Department’s intervention.

“I cannot sleep well at night knowing that my three sons are forced to live with their abusive father and his paramour ... who commit the most horrifying and inhuman form of child abuse based on locking them in freezing cold garage in a winter time,” Zubko-Valva wrote in a foreshadowing.

Six months later, 8-year-old Thomas, a third grader at East Moriches Elementary School, was dead from hypothermia.

Newsday reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including court transcripts in both counties, Child Protective Services reports from several caseworkers, and assessments from court-appointed lawyers and the East Moriches school district.

The documents show systems intended to protect children ultimately ignored multiple warnings, including those from Zubko-Valva, who painstakingly documented the alleged abuse of her sons.

The accusations against the father and his fiancee — as well as Michael Valva's counterclaims of abuse allegedly committed by the mother, which were found to be unsubstantiated — are contained in court filings in the divorce and custody battle between Thomas’ parents. The cases spanned at least four judges in two counties beginning in late 2015.

Among the key findings:

Four months before Thomas' death, a judge in Nassau dismissed Zubko-Valva's concerns after the mother told the judge her children's lives were in danger. The jurist told her that CPS was in charge of investigating such complaints and reminded her that she had made allegations as such before, saying they could be examined during a trial.

The boys’ court-appointed attorney in the divorce case dismissed Zubko-Valva’s allegations amid her refusal to cooperate with a judge’s directives and depicted instead a happy, suburban family at the Valva home on Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches. The children, the attorney said, showed her their bedroom and belongings and described “what they enjoy eating" during a time period when Suffolk prosecutors allege the boys were starving.

A Nassau judge presiding over the estranged couple’s divorce in September 2017 stripped custody of the boys from their mother and awarded temporary custody of the boys to Valva. The mother regained emergency temporary custody of the other two boys after Thomas died.

A Suffolk judge concluded allegations that Valva made against Zubko-Valva were “not credible,” and suggested the children may have been coached to make allegations against their mother, yet the children continued to live with their father and Pollina.

Nassau police investigated Zubko-Valva’s allegations that the father had sexually abused two of the boys, but deemed the allegations unfounded. And a Suffolk judge in 2018 said that while Suffolk CPS thought the mother acted in bad faith by making the sex abuse claims in 2016, counter-abuse claims by Valva against her were never substantiated.

Teachers at East Moriches Elementary, which Thomas and Anthony attended from 2017 to 2020, repeatedly reported to CPS that the children arrived to school dirty, hungry and with bruises, but the children continued to live with their father.

A troubled family history

Zubko-Valva, 36, a New York City correction officer, and Valva were married in 2004. By late 2015, the father of three had “abandoned” the family, moving out of their Valley Stream condo, Zubko-Valva alleged in court papers. Zubko-Valva, in the papers, also accused her husband of cheating with Pollina. Valva filed for divorce.

Years earlier, according to documents, Zubko-Valva reported she suffered verbal and financial abuse by Valva during an intake appointment on Feb. 4, 2011, at the Safe Center LI, the Nassau County agency that provides support to victims of domestic violence.

The domestic violence incidences Mrs. Zubko-Valva reported included, but were not limited to, Michael Valva threatening to take all of their money away from her [especially if she tried to involve the police], threatening that he would lose his job if she involved the police, threats to file false police reports against her, yelling and screaming at her, destroying property in the home, and throwing items around the house,” wrote crisis center coordinator Leigh Buchman in a Sept. 15, 2017, letter to attorney Jason Barbara of New Hyde Park, who briefly represented Zubko-Valva. He did not return a message seeking comment.

Zubko-Valva, who is not an attorney, has insisted on representing herself in court.

Legal experts have questioned the wisdom of navigating the court system without the benefit of an attorney; Zubko-Valva has said no lawyer can advocate for her children as fervently as she can.

Thomas, like his older brother Anthony, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to court records. The boy received special education services, occupational therapy and speech therapy, the documents said.

Between October 2017 and February 2018, there were seven Child Protective Services reports alleging neglect against both parents, according to CPS case worker testimony.

A Suffolk judge later dismissed neglect allegations against the mother, which included her alleged use of corporal punishment and forcing them to ingest a brown liquid, after a trial in which Valva’s testimony against his estranged wife was deemed “less than credible.”

But even after a Suffolk CPS caseworker “saw bruises on Thomas’ buttocks and at the base of his spine, which Thomas said were caused by his father” on Jan. 15, 2018, the boys continued to live with their father.

Police and CPS get involved


Over the last five years, Nassau police responded to a total of 21 calls to 911 from the family’s Valley Stream home — 11 of the calls made by Valva and the other 10 from Zubko-Valva, said Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, who added that Nassau police notified the NYPD of all of its interactions with Valva.

The majority of the calls — 16 — were related to visitation disputes, LeBrun said.

A police report contained in the divorce paperwork shows Zubko-Valva reported — in graphic detail — to police on Aug. 4, 2016, that two of her sons were sexually abused by their father.

LeBrun said the sex abuse allegation was investigated by the police department’s Special Victims Squad and Child Protective Services. After a “thorough investigation, which included interviews and medical documentation, there was no evidence to support this allegation.”

A CPS caseworker later said in court papers that she was “concerned about the allegations because the children had to go through several invasive exams."

In another call from the mother to police claiming the children had not eaten in a day, the boys arrived home with their father, who had a McDonald’s bag “filled with food in his hands,” LeBrun said. Zubko-Valva's report was again deemed unfounded.

Multiple allegations of child abuse reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment or SCR hotline dating to September 2018, and investigated by CPS, mirror what prosecutors have alleged the boys endured, including being kept in the cold garage and deprived of food as punishment.

Nevertheless, the boys' court-appointed attorney, Donna McCabe, offered the court a glowing review of the boys under the care of their father.

“Although they experienced some ups and downs, their performance was amazing overall,” McCabe wrote in 2018 court papers. “I heard Anthony, who had never attended a traditional school before, read with clarity and understanding. All three boys are comfortable and assimilated into the household. They showed me their room, their belongings and told me about their routine.”

She said Pollina’s three daughters “love the Valva boys and treat them like brothers,” saying she saw them dancing together. The boys, she said, spoke of how “they celebrated the holidays and what they enjoy eating.”

McCabe, who declined an interview request, said in an email that Thomas' death was a tragedy and that she prays for the boys daily.

"My role as an attorney for the children is no substitute for a parent," McCabe wrote. "I advocated for Ms. Zubko-Valva to have visitation. The Court afforded her many opportunities to see her children. For nearly two years she refused visitation, leaving Mr. Valva as the only parent these boys would have."

Boys' school reported concerns

Nicole Papa, a special-education teacher at East Moriches Elementary, in an undated “Valva Family Concerns” memo, presented a stark contrast to McCabe's portrayal of the family.

Thomas and Anthony, described as "sweet and loving" children by school district employees, were not provided enough food to get them through the school day, Papa wrote. Anthony lost 11 pounds in nine months, while Thomas gained just one pound in the preceding 20 months, Papa wrote.

“Anthony and Thomas have stated that they are not allowed to eat breakfast because they did not use their manners, say good morning to Angela, or were doing nothing,” Papa wrote. “They have come in crying because of this.”

“I often supply them with cereal bars, chips, fruit and juice throughout the day,” she added.

In a second document from East Moriches schools, dated April 25, 2018, school psychologist Renee Emin expressed concerns about Anthony’s weight loss. “Anthony has grown in height and should have gained weight,” Emin said. “Mr. Valva reports that Anthony has lost weight because he is more active, however, we have asked the family to provide more food during the school day and they have not.”

In an Oct. 15, 2018, CPS court-ordered investigation report, caseworker Melissa Estrada reported interviewing all three children “separately and in private” in front of their school principal — and all three said they were adequately fed.

In the notes about Thomas, the caseworker wrote: “He eats breakfast, lunch and dinner every night and that his stepmother Angela cooks for the family every single night."

“Mr. Valva denied that the children are ever denied access to food, are always supplied with breakfast, lunch at home and to school, snack and dinner," according to the report. "This has been confirmed by this caseworker and the ongoing service workers Jessica Lantz who has not reported concerns in the Valva home.”

Also noted was Zubko-Valva’s lack of contact with the assigned CPS caseworker.

“Caseworker attempted to contact biological mother Justyna Valva on numerous occasions via phone messages and letters, unsuccessfully,” Estrada wrote. “It was reported that by ongoing service worker Lantz that Ms. Zubko-Valva has been noncompliant with the court mandates or having any contact with CPS.”

But five days after Thomas died, a Suffolk County Family Court judge granted emergency temporary custody of Anthony and Andrew to Zubko-Valva. And at a subsequent hearing this month, the judge saw no need to specify increased CPS monitoring.

Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services Commissioner Frances Pierre declined to talk about the case. Pierre is a member of an internal review committee appointed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to investigate the department’s management of the case. The New York State Office of Children of Family Services is also investigating. The Justice Department didn't comment on Zubko-Valva's letter to Barr.

A contentious custody battle

The court file provides insight on why Zubko-Valva lost custody of her children in 2017. Judges frequently expressed frustration toward Zubko-Valva.

When Zubko-Valva argued that Anthony should continue to attend a school for disabled children in Manhattan during the Sept. 6, 2017, hearing — the day she lost custody of the children — Nassau Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman told her to sit down and be quiet, according to paperwork. “Don’t talk,” the judge told the agitated mother, “because you’re not making any sense.”

Nassau County Court Judge Francis Ricigliano, meanwhile, took Zubko-Valva to task at a July 15, 2017, hearing after she expressed concerns that Pollina — whom she called Valva’s “paramour” — accompanied Valva when he picked up his kids. Zubko-Valva said it affected the children to see their father in a new relationship shortly after he “abandoned our family."

“What’s the difference between a paramour and a girlfriend?” the judge asked before urging Zubko-Valva to stay away from “bad words.”

After Thomas' death, the case was reassigned to the court's supervising judge.

McCabe, the attorney who was appointed in March 2016 to represent Thomas and his brothers, also clashed frequently with Zubko-Valva. The mother accused McCabe of being more interested in advocating for her estranged husband than her children. McCabe, during one court appearance, refuted Zubko-Valva’s claim that Anthony was terrified of his father.

In a July 2019 court appearance, after McCabe said the children were "not maltreated or malnourished," Zubko-Valva said the attorney was "completely misleading the court" and should be "severely punished" with "prison time."

McCabe also laid out a series of complaints against the mother, including her resistance to a court-mandated psychological examination.

Zubko-Valva “made demands that all sessions be videotaped," McCabe said, adding that the doctor who ultimately conducted the exam quit the case after Zubko-Valva "took pictures of the questions and answers on the exam."

A judge later noted that Zubko-Valva “submitted her psychological testing records from her employment as a corrections officer," which she had passed.

McCabe also said it had been “impossible” for her to see the boys while with their mother. And when she saw them with their father, Zubko-Valva canceled their visit and alleged McCabe had “acted inappropriately” at a previous meeting and the children were “afraid” of her.

McCabe denied the claims and wrote in a report that she feared for the safety of the children under the mother's care.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state court system, said a review of how the cases were handled is underway and said it would be "inappropriate for any of the judges to comment as this is a pending criminal matter."

“In the Nassau matrimonial case, the administrative judge has asked for all the transcripts to be reviewed," he said. "We’re reviewing the case file to look at exactly what transpired and to see if everything was handled appropriately.”

Chalfen declined to comment specifically on the 2017 move to grant custody to Valva.

Dueling abuse accusations


On Oct. 31, 2017, more than a month after Zubko-Valva lost custody, CPS received a Statewide Central Register report alleging the mother was hitting her children, leaving scrapes, bruises and cuts, according to records. It was also alleged the mother suffered from mental illness, that her condition was deteriorating and she was incapable of caring for her children.

Zubko-Valva has maintained she never mistreated her children and any reports of abuse on her part were fabricated by the boys' father.

On Dec. 19, 2017, the mother met with CPS investigative case worker Michele Clark. She said the mother admitted she had “placed recording devices in the children’s backpacks when they lived with her and visited the father,” according to a later court order from Suffolk Judge Bernard Cheng.

Zubko-Valva was concerned, the court documents said, that the boys' father "was leaving the children in the cold without shoes as discipline."

The mother also alleged Valva got special treatment from police in Suffolk when she called them during a visitation dispute on Dec. 31, 2017. She told the court that police refused to take a report from her.

“Three police cars pulled up and went into the father’s home. They stayed for about 15 minutes, then left without speaking to the mother,” Cheng wrote. Suffolk police could not immediately verify the visit.

In January 2018, Suffolk CPS filed neglect petitions against both Valva and Zubko-Valva, alleging they each had used corporal punishment on the boys.

The judge issued temporary protection orders requiring the parents to refrain from striking the children. Valva's case ended with an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which allows charges to be dismissed if a defendant stays out of trouble.

Zubko-Valva had been visiting her children unsupervised since losing custody, but after the January 2018 neglect petition, she was ordered to have supervised custody. Her case went to trial.

On April 12, 2019, Cheng, who presided over her family court trial, wrote in an order that he found “insufficient evidence to sustain a finding of child neglect against the mother.”

The judge seemingly criticized the prosecutor who argued the case, saying Suffolk Assistant County Attorney Randall Ratje’s closing arguments “did not concentrate on the allegations in the petition” but instead concentrated on "arguing that the mother was mentally ill and that she believes there is a conspiracy between the father and Child Protective Services to falsely accuse her of child neglect.”

The judge also noted the mother believed the allegations against her “have been made up by the father in order to gain an advantage in the divorce" and said “certainly it seems odd" that complaints about visitation pickups and the mother speaking disparagingly about the father were included in a child neglect case.

Chalfen, the courts spokesman, said of the Suffolk Family Court case: “Judge Cheng was quite thorough in this case and spent an inordinate amount of time on it and ordered further investigation and additional medical visits for the children, which is not a usual occurrence once the petition is filed.”

Still, Zubko-Valva refused supervised visits with the children after the last time she spent time with them Jan. 14, 2018, alleging a conspiracy between CPS and the court system.

A few months before Thomas died, a judge asked the mother four times during one court appearance if she wanted to see the children, but she protested over the issue of supervised visits, according to a transcript.

The next time Zubko-Valva saw Thomas, he was in the morgue.

Reports: Abuse continues after mother loses custody

The reports of abuse of the boys continued into 2019.

On Jan. 16, 2019, someone called the state child abuse hotline and reported Thomas had a black eye.

The next month, another report claimed his brother, Anthony, was “coming to school with his clothes and backpack soaked in urine. Anthony has been staying in the garage and is not allowed in his room due to him urinating in his bed.”

Anthony had a “foul odor and is extremely cold," the report said, adding: “The garage is not heated, making the punishment excessive."

It’s unclear what investigatory steps were taken, but Zubko-Valva said CPS quickly closed the reports.

On May 14, 2019, a caller to the hotline alleged Valva threw a book bag at Thomas, then 7, hitting him on the head. He had a bruise and bump on his forehead area.

But when CPS investigators confronted Valva a week later, the NYPD officer told a safety assessment team that it was Anthony who threw the book bag.

“Family is uncooperative as they feel they are being harassed by the school,” the assessment said. “They do not want the children to be interviewed at the school and do not allow CW [caseworker] to interview other children. Investigation to continue.”

Despite the red flags, the team determined the children were not in "immediate or impending danger," and recommended nothing be done at the time.

Anthony Zenkus, who teaches about family violence and trauma at Columbia University and Adelphi University, noted that most child protective cases do not rise to the level of a child being removed from a parent. The agency first tries to strengthen the family, putting services in place, such as teaching them better parenting skills, Zenkus said.

“There must be an imminent danger of harm or that harm has already occurred,” Zenkus said.

In both Nassau and Suffolk, cases generally go before an agency removal committee before a child is taken out of the home. A family court judge also must approve the recommendation, he said.

“There must be a continual pattern of abuse and neglect that’s resistant to intervention,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president of the Mineola-based Family and Children Association.

A mother's last bid to save her child

Inside a Mineola courtroom on Sept. 10, the mother warned State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lorintz that her kid’s “life is in danger."

“I keep expressing to your honor multiple, multiple times,” Zubko-Valva pleaded, according to a transcript. “I keep attaching the reports that were created from State Central Registrar filed by, I’m assuming, teachers, on the CPS hotline regarding enormously concerning situation with my children. The teachers are, and even the parents from that school, complain about children looking for food on the floor, your honor.”

Lorintz, who recused himself from the case after Thomas' death, replied: “Ms. Valva, I’m interrupting you because you’ve now repeated what you’ve just said numerous, numerous times. I’ve heard what you said and I’ve told you that I am not CPS. I am not Child Protective Services … I have told you that your complaints and concerns need to be investigated by the proper agencies that investigate child abuse.”

Zubko-Valva answered: “Your Honor, the CPS is not doing their job.”

Lorintz told her: “What would you like me to do though? I am not CPS. I cannot physically go to his home and conduct an investigation.”

Zubko-Valva again pleaded for help, suggesting the judge subpoena the boys’ teachers to testify in court.

Lorintz replied: “We will have a trial.”

Zubko-Valva ominously told the judge: “But this cannot wait until trial because his life is in danger.”

Thomas Valva died 129 days later.


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My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person. - Sara Luterman


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21 Feb 2020, 10:15 pm

Advocates: Despite signs of abuse, children like Thomas Valva linger in troubled homes

Quote:
Despite the abuse signs — a black eye, the malnutrition, a welt on his head, bruises from excessive spanking — Suffolk County's social services agency and the court system left Thomas Valva in his father's home.

Several Long Island child protection advocates said Child Protection Services caseworkers had seen enough of the boy's condition that they should have pushed to take the 8-year-old from the home. But removing a child from a home is never easy, especially on the kid, child advocates said. The act of being taken from their home, only to be thrust into a foster home or the spare bedroom of a family relative, can be emotionally wrenching, they said.

"There's a reluctance" to remove a kid from a home, said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association in Mineola. "There's a trend toward keeping kids where they are, and working with the families."

Thomas died of hypothermia Jan. 17 after he was forced to sleep overnight in a subfreezing garage in the family's home in Center Moriches, police said. The boy's father, Michael Valva, 40, and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, 42, were charged Jan. 24 with second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Both pleaded not guilty and are still in jail. If convicted, they face up to 25 years to life in prison.

After learning details of the boy's CPS case file, child protection advocates, none of whom was involved in the case, said the agency missed or misread numerous signs of danger for Thomas and his two brothers. Newsday reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including court transcripts, CPS reports from several caseworkers, and assessments from court-appointed lawyers and the East Moriches school district.

"There should have been more interventions, more visits to the home, and he should have been removed," said Reynolds, whose group works with youth in foster care.

The case was complex, noted Anthony Zenkus, an adjunct professor who teaches family violence and trauma at the schools of social work at Columbia and Adelphi universities.

Thomas' mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, 36, of Valley Stream, often refused to cooperate with CPS, the files show, and the children's stories often were inconsistent, at times blaming one parent for ill treatment and then the other. On numerous occasions, the children would not confirm they were being abused, the files show.

Zenkus, who has trained CPS caseworkers in Nassau and Suffolk, said it's difficult to request removal when a child tells different stories.

"If they can't corroborate, it's very hard to ask for the family court system to act," he said.

The documents show that the boys' parents were engaged in a bitter divorce, with each parent registering CPS complaints of abuse against the other. The couple had married in 2004 and initiated divorce proceedings in 2015. Michael Valva obtained temporary custody of Thomas, along with Andrew, 6, and Anthony, 10, in 2017.

From 2017 until virtually Thomas' death, CPS received numerous complaints about Valva's treatment of Thomas and Anthony — from the boy's mother, his school and some neighbors. The agency closed several complaints quickly, the paperwork shows. In those few instances when the agency did take action, the boy was still left with the father, the documents show.

In general, each county's CPS is required to investigate child abuse and neglect reports, and to protect children from abuse or maltreatment. The great majority of these cases do not include removing a child from the home, Zenkus said. In most instances, the agency might monitor the family as it helps provide services to children, parents and other family members, he said.

In both Nassau and Suffolk, the CPS recommendation to remove a child from a home must be vetted by an agency committee. The decision then must be approved by a Family Court judge.

"If a caseworker at any time feels that children are in imminent danger and need to be removed, they would immediately contact their supervisor and hold a removal meeting," Nancy Nunziata, commissioner of the Department of Social Services for Nassau, said in a statement. "If there are no services or resources and it is felt that there are no other options other than a removal for the health and safety of the children, then we petition the court for a removal.

"It is ultimately up to the judges who must uphold the removal. They have the final decision-making over whether or not the removal stands."

Removal could lead to foster care, though Nassau and Suffolk have seen a significant decrease in the number of kids placed in the system. In Suffolk, the number of kids placed in foster care decreased from 705 in 2008 to 497 in 2018, according to figures from the state Office of Family and Children's Services. Nassau saw a drop from 418 to 176 during that time period, figures show.

The 2018 federal Family First Prevention Services Act aimed to steer more children from foster care, said Jorge Rosario, former chief of the Children’s Law Bureau for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, whose attorneys represent children in family court.

The goal of the law was to, when possible, keep children with their family, and offer family services and parent training. Rosario said the intent of the law was good but added that sometimes children are not moved into foster care when they should be.

“You have some children [where] foster care is necessary to protect them from family or whoever, even if it’s on just a temporary basis, so it allows CPS and others to investigate,” Rosario said.

Suffolk social service officials largely have declined to comment on Thomas' case, citing confidentiality laws. But Frances Pierre, commissioner of the Department of Social Services, has said Valva in 2018 was placed under court-ordered home supervision for a year. Suffolk officials also pointed out that both biological parents had been issued orders to not harm the children.

Daniel Levler, president of the Association of Municipal Employees 834, which represents CPS caseworkers, said workers did what they were supposed to do in Thomas’ case.

“Public sentiment is pointed toward them, and public sentiment is pointed at them in a negative way, as if they had willfully, deliberately shirked their responsibilities as a public worker and protector of children,” Levler said.

He added that caseworkers carry high caseloads and heavy paperwork demands.

"We’re always concerned something could go wrong,” Levler said, adding that the Association of Municipal Employees has advocated for additional staffing and new safeguards for caseworkers.

Rosario said one problem is a lack of accountability at CPS.

“You need an independent body, an IG [inspector general] or an auditing body that audits these folks” year-round, he said. “They don’t care what they do and how they do it because there is no accountability … You tell them this person is not working for the best interests of the child, they protect that person. It’s like they have a wall of silence."

Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta and Anthony Piccirillo have introduced a bill for an inspector general, partly to investigate any “possible misconduct and mismanagement” in the case. Trotta also previously has tried to get an IG bill passed. There will be a public hearing March 3 on the latest bill.

County Executive Steve Bellone has pledged a “top-to-bottom” internal review of the Department of Social Services’ actions in the Valva-Pollina case. A separate task force is examining how CPS, which is part of the social services department, handles cases involving children with autism. Thomas and Anthony both were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to court records.

County officials reviewing the case have met several times, Suffolk spokesman Derek Poppe said. “The reviews are ongoing and it would be premature to comment before those committees finish their work.”

The state Office of Children and Family Services also is conducting a review. That office does not "have a timeline for when we’ll issue our findings, but our staff has been diligently working on the review," spokeswoman Monica Mahaffey said.

Child protection advocates pointed to several instances where they felt CPS did not handle Thomas' case appropriately.

On May 14, 2019, CPS received an anonymous complaint that Valva, an NYPD transit officer, had thrown a book bag at Thomas, hitting him in the head and leaving a bruise and bump on his forehead, according to CPS files. The tipster added that Valva also squeezed Thomas’ hand in anger and that the child’s hand still hurt, the report said.

But when a caseworker spoke with Valva, the father said the book bag was actually thrown by Anthony. The agency determined that there were no “safety factors” in the home and that no safety plan or interventions were needed, the files show.

Caseworkers often appeared to side with the boys' father over the mother, said Reynolds, who suspects that occurred because the father was a police officer living in a nice section of Center Moriches.

"They probably pulled up to the house and were greeted by a law enforcement officer in a clean house, and they fell into the stereotypes of who abuses children," Reynolds said. "If it wasn't a police officer, and he wasn't white, it might have been different."

Meanwhile, CPS workers described Zubko-Valva as being unstable and a potential danger to the children, according to CPS paperwork.

“It appears the mother’s mental health has deteriorated since losing custody of the children as her behaviors have become increasingly erratic and concerning,” the CPS report said. “Mother is consistently uncooperative and unmanageable when dealing with authority.”

On several occasions, the children told a caseworker they were fearful of Zubko-Valva and that she hurt them. For instance, on Jan. 3, 2018, Andrew told a caseworker that his mother "hurts him bad," that she had punched him in the belly and on his buttocks, according to an April 12, 2019, court transcript in the divorce case.

Zubko-Valva has denied abusing the children. She said she believed her estranged husband was filing false complaints against her and that the agency was biased against her. She stopped interacting with CPS in January 2018, and did not see her children until Thomas' death.

"I never punish, never hit, never abused my own children because they are the most important persons in my life," Zubko-Valva wrote in a letter last July asking for help from U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

She added that CPS closed some of her reports on Valva after only a day or two. Moreover, she said she believes the agency not only protected her husband but turned the tables on her and accused her of abusing her children.

"As a witness and whistleblower on this, I should have been protected," Zubko-Valva added in the Barr letter. "I was not. I became the victim of the system as the children already have been."

Zubko-Valva sought other ways, apart from CPS, to get the story out. She posted a video clip of Andrew on Twitter on Jan. 7, 2018.

“Daddy says to me that I can’t listen to you and I can’t hug you and I can’t say, ‘I love you, Mommy’ and ‘I miss you, Mommy,’ ” Andrew said in the clip.

“Why?” his mother asks.

“Daddy’s going to put me outside,” he replies.

In an April 12, 2018, decision, Suffolk Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng determined that the statements by the Valva boys — that they were hit and punched by their mother — did not constitute enough evidence to find neglect or abuse on the mother's part, according to the transcript. He raised the possibility that the boys were coached to say these things, according to a transcript of the hearings.

In addition, the judge contradicted CPS assertions that Zubko-Valva was mentally ill. He said that, after speaking with her, she was "focused, goal-directed and clear," according to the transcript.

After Thomas' death, Zubko-Valva was granted temporary custody of Anthony and Andrew.

On Jan. 16, 2018, CPS caseworker Michele Clark wrote that Thomas had "bruises on his buttocks that were red, green and brown in color." The boy said he got in trouble at home for saying bad things about his father and girlfriend. The bruises were still visible three days later, and Thomas said he was scared to return home to his father, the report said.

The agency's response was to obtain a court-issued protective order stating that Valva was to refrain from threats and violent punishment against the children.

This incident should have raised red flags, Zenkus said. "Green, red and brown bruises shows you that it did not happen on the same day or the same way. It's a pattern of physical violence lasting days," he said.

Zenkus added, "A kid being afraid to go home, and evidence of a pattern of physical abuse, is a concern."

In a Jan. 16, 2019, report, a CPS worker noted Thomas had received a “right swollen black eye.” The worker noted that there were no clear explanations for the injuries. The worker also noted that there is a history of physical abuse in the home involving Thomas. The agency attributed the black eye to Valva, according to the report.

It's unclear from the paperwork what action CPS took.

Teachers, the school nurse and psychologist at Thomas' school also shared numerous concerns about the treatment of the boys, according to CPS files. Thomas was a third grader at East Moriches Elementary.

In an Oct. 15, 2018, report, a teacher told a caseworker that Thomas had been sent to school in a wet pullup, and the boy stated he was not permitted to go to the school nurse's office. Moreover, the teacher said Thomas was often hungry and that she and other students had seen him eat crumbs off the floor and out of the garbage.

When the caseworker spoke with Thomas, the boy contradicted those claims, saying he ate breakfast every morning, had lunch at school, and dinner every night. Anthony said the same thing, according to the CPS report. The caseworker concluded, "All the children were seen to be: appropriately clothed, groomed and fed with no obvious concerns."

The report ended with the caseworker noting that the father had made an appointment with a doctor, and that the investigation would continue.

The caseworkers should have taken the teacher's concerns more seriously, said Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children LI. The Brentwood-based group supports children and women impacted by the justice system, some of whom interact with child protection services.

"The teacher sees the child every day," Liguori said. "Their response should have matched the level of seriousness of the complaint."

With David Olson, Nicole Fuller and Rachelle Blidner

KIDS IN FOSTER CARE
In Suffolk County, the number decreased from 705 in 2008 to 497 in 2018.
In Nassau County, the number dropped from 418 in 2008 to 176 in 2018.
SOURCE: State Office of Family and Children's Services


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24 Feb 2020, 3:58 am

Child welfare workers repeatedly missed changes to prevent Long Island boy’s murder at the hand of his NYPD cop father

Quote:
The warning signs were everywhere, ignored along the way to little Thomas Valva’s heartbreaking death inside a freezing Long Island garage.
A chilling chronology constructed by the dead 8-year-old boy’s mother from court records and other documents lays out how child welfare caseworkers and lawyers continually missed or ignored indicators of the ongoing abuse before the autistic child’s Jan. 17 killing, allegedly at the hands of his brutal father. The paperwork compiled by Justyna Zukbo-Valva was shared with the Daily News.

Among the terrifying allegations: Her husband Michael Valva’s fiancee warned the boys 15 months before Thomas’ death to never visit their school nurse about anything.

In meeting after meeting with Child Protective Services, beginning in 2017, Zubko-Valva implored caseworkers to get involved and protect her boys now living with their father in Center Moriches, L.I. The mother, recalling a Dec. 6, 2017, meeting, says caseworker Michelle Clark blamed her rather than NYPD officer Valva for the regressing autism of Thomas’ older brother Anthony.

Clark also declined to read progress reports from the special school where the mother enrolled the brothers before Valva pulled both of them out.
“She informed me she will not take any evidence from me,” wrote Zubko-Valva about the caseworker. “If I try to provide my evidence to her, she is not going to take them into consideration.”

Clark, in five reports filed between Oct. 31, 2017, and Jan. 15, 2018, found no safety factors that "place the children in immediate danger” and quickly closed the investigations into the father’s treatment of Thomas and 10-year-old Anthony.

Clark did not respond to a request for comment, and a CPS spokesman declined comment.

The accused killers are slated to appear again in court on Monday.

According to the mother’s records, her estranged husband Valva erupted in anger on Jan. 13, 2018, when Thomas accused Pollina of hitting him. Valva forced the boy to lean over a table with his hands outstretched, then hit the child repeatedly on his buttocks and lower back on the right side — leaving bruises confirmed by a neighbor.

Zubko-Valva filed another complaint. But her estranged husband simply refused to open the door when CPS sent a caseworker his home for an interview him, records show. Three days later, the bruised little boy told child welfare worker Michele Clark that he was still in pain from his father’s beating.

The CPS’ puzzling response was to lift an order of protection against Valva and to issue a new one against the mother, a decision that would come to haunt them.
In the wake of beating, Valva was accused of using “corporal punishment on the children." And on March 7, 2018, Judge Bernard Cheng ordered Valva not to hit or threaten the boys without ever holding a hearing about what happened.

Worst of all, the judge refused to change the custody arrangement, sending Thomas and Anthony back to their suburban house of horrors with Valva.

Child welfare worker Clark had by then long closed the CPS investigation in the January beating.

In a cruel twist, Zubko-Valva was simultaneously put through a four-month ordeal involving allegations regarding her previous decision to place

Anthony in a special school for autistic kids. Unlike her spouse, the mother faced a full trial with witnesses and lawyer’s arguments that ended with her acquittal of any wrongdoing.

A source familiar with the case said complaints and allegations were filed against both parents. Michael Valva’s agreement forced him to accept routine checkups in the home and to attend positive parenting classes.

“Valva was constantly complaining he was being harassed,” the source said. “We followed up on each allegation. They (caseworkers) did what they could.”

On Oct. 1, 2018, Zubko-Valva filed a a request to remove CPS caseworker Jessica Lantz for “failing to report Valva and Pollina’s neglect of the children.” She believed Lantz was downplaying the seriousness of mistreatment, noting CPS never notified her that Anthony and Thomas were sent to school each day in diaper.

One day later, CPS caseworker Edward Heepe closed three investigations into the father’s treatment of his children. He omitted the January beating incident from his report. In November 2018, court-appointed lawyer Donna McCabe was singing the praises of Valva and Pollina — even as teachers at the boys’ school were repeatedly calling the state child abuse hotline.

Prosecutors, speaking after the investigation into Thomas’ death began, said Valva’s two sons were instructed and threatened by their father and Pollina to keep their mouths shut.

Based on his reading of the records, advocate Wieslaw Von Walawender believes the CPS workers simply bought Valva’s lies rather than dig a little deeper. He points to an incident just two months before Thomas’ death when the little boy arrived at school with a black eye and some of his hair pulled out by the roots.

A CPS case manager eventually closed the case as unfounded.

They are doing everything in their power to let Michael and Angela slide and at the same time they are keeping Justyna away from the kids so the kids couldn’t report anything,” he said.


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24 Feb 2020, 5:11 am

Well that answers the questions I posted thoroughly.



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24 Feb 2020, 10:38 pm

To learn more about the same CPS agency not doing their job, the book "Etched in Sand" tells the story of some girls who barely survived the emotional abuse and neglect of their single mother. And I suppose their situation is a more common one for CPS to have to deal with.


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24 Feb 2020, 11:55 pm

I wish I was dead this world is sickening and I wish it never existed


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27 Feb 2020, 11:03 pm

Thomas Valva's parents verbally spar in court

Quote:
The NYPD officer charged with killing his 8-year-old son argued in matrimonial court with his estranged wife during a Thursday appearance in which he shook his head and objected when she declared that he had murdered the boy.

“I object to that,” said Michael Valva, who has been jailed since his arrest last month for allegedly killing his son. “She should not be saying such things,” he said of the accusations of his estranged wife, Justyna Zubko-Valva, who said in court that he had murdered Thomas Valva, one of their three sons, after longtime abuse.

Valva, who was in court in handcuffs and shackles, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges in the boy's Jan. 17 death. He represented himself during Thursday's divorce proceeding. His divorce lawyer quit the case after Valva was charged.

Valva’s comments were his most extensive public statements since his arrest. Authorities have said Valva and his fiancée, Angela Pollina, 42 — who is also charged with murder — forced Thomas, who was on the autism spectrum, to sleep in the unheated garage of the family's Center Moriches home in freezing weather and starved the boy as punishment. The boy died of hypothermia.

Zubko-Valva, 36, of Valley Stream, who is also representing herself in the divorce case, sparred with Valva over finances as well. She accused him of hiding funds from her and failing to pay the mortgage on their marital residence — now in foreclosure — despite a previous court order.

And Valva countered with accusations that Zubko-Valva refused to see or even speak to their sons — Thomas, Anthony, 10, and Andrew, 6 — after he was granted temporary custody in 2017 amid their divorce and custody battle. Valva filed for divorce in December 2015.

Zubko-Valva was awarded custody of Thomas' two brothers after Valva was charged with murder.

“Ms. Zubko chose not to see the children,” Valva said, not using his surname, even though his estranged wife does use it in hyphenated form. "She declined everything.”

At another point while discussing their finances, Zubko-Valva said of her estranged husband: “There is no need for plaintiff to lie to the court.”

Valva countered that Zubko-Valva makes $65,000 annually as a New York City correction officer at Rikers Island. Valva, a transit officer, is suspended without pay from the NYPD.

“Ms. Zubko refuses to provide any further finances,” said Valva, adding: “She also gets countless hours of overtime.”

Jeffrey A. Goodstein, supervising judge of the Nassau County Matrimonial Center, issued several orders, including approving the request of Donna McCabe, who was a court-appointed attorney for the Valva boys since 2016, to be removed from the case. He ordered Thomas McNally, the same attorney appointed to represent the children in Suffolk Family Court, to represent them in their parents' divorce.

Goodstein also ordered Valva to give $11,000 from his 401(k) to Zubko-Valva for child support. Valva did not object. The judge also said he would consider appointing an attorney for Valva in the divorce case regarding custody issues only, pending a financial analysis. Zubko-Valva has refused to have an attorney.

Goodstein, referencing the Jan. 27 family court order granting temporary custody of Anthony and Andrew to their mother, told Valva: "You have no access to them whatsoever, you understand that?"

Valva replied: "I understand that."

Goodstein permitted Zubko-Valva to speak at length during the proceeding. She harshly criticized McCabe’s handling of the case, repeating accusations she has long made that McCabe was more interested in helping Valva than looking out for the children, and claimed McCabe is the sister of former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, which the attorney said was false.

McCabe told the judge “I do not wish to address” the mother’s allegations, but added: “I have no relation to Andrew McCabe.”

Zubko-Valva also criticized the court reporter, tasked with taking notes and making a transcript of the hearing, after the veteran court reporter asked a fast-talking Zubko-Valva several times to repeat herself in a courtroom with poor acoustics.

"The court reporter's pretending she can't hear me," said Zubko-Valva, who questioned if the transcript would be accurate and asked the judge for a new court reporter. The judge declined the request.

Outside court, Zubko-Valva said she was “very grateful” that McCabe was off the case.

“Obviously it’s not easy to be in the same courtroom with the murderer of my child," she said, regarding Valva. "But I have to be here for Tommy and I have to fight for justice for Tommy and my other two children.”

The parents are scheduled to be back in court on June 30.


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02 Mar 2020, 8:27 pm

CarlM wrote:
Thomas Valva's parents verbally spar in court
Quote:
The NYPD officer charged with killing his 8-year-old son argued in matrimonial court with his estranged wife during a Thursday appearance in which he shook his head and objected when she declared that he had murdered the boy.

“I object to that,” said Michael Valva, who has been jailed since his arrest last month for allegedly killing his son. “She should not be saying such things,” he said of the accusations of his estranged wife, Justyna Zubko-Valva, who said in court that he had murdered Thomas Valva, one of their three sons, after longtime abuse.

Valva, who was in court in handcuffs and shackles, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges in the boy's Jan. 17 death. He represented himself during Thursday's divorce proceeding. His divorce lawyer quit the case after Valva was charged.

Valva’s comments were his most extensive public statements since his arrest. Authorities have said Valva and his fiancée, Angela Pollina, 42 — who is also charged with murder — forced Thomas, who was on the autism spectrum, to sleep in the unheated garage of the family's Center Moriches home in freezing weather and starved the boy as punishment. The boy died of hypothermia.

Zubko-Valva, 36, of Valley Stream, who is also representing herself in the divorce case, sparred with Valva over finances as well. She accused him of hiding funds from her and failing to pay the mortgage on their marital residence — now in foreclosure — despite a previous court order.

And Valva countered with accusations that Zubko-Valva refused to see or even speak to their sons — Thomas, Anthony, 10, and Andrew, 6 — after he was granted temporary custody in 2017 amid their divorce and custody battle. Valva filed for divorce in December 2015.

Zubko-Valva was awarded custody of Thomas' two brothers after Valva was charged with murder.

“Ms. Zubko chose not to see the children,” Valva said, not using his surname, even though his estranged wife does use it in hyphenated form. "She declined everything.”

At another point while discussing their finances, Zubko-Valva said of her estranged husband: “There is no need for plaintiff to lie to the court.”

Valva countered that Zubko-Valva makes $65,000 annually as a New York City correction officer at Rikers Island. Valva, a transit officer, is suspended without pay from the NYPD.

“Ms. Zubko refuses to provide any further finances,” said Valva, adding: “She also gets countless hours of overtime.”

Jeffrey A. Goodstein, supervising judge of the Nassau County Matrimonial Center, issued several orders, including approving the request of Donna McCabe, who was a court-appointed attorney for the Valva boys since 2016, to be removed from the case. He ordered Thomas McNally, the same attorney appointed to represent the children in Suffolk Family Court, to represent them in their parents' divorce.

Goodstein also ordered Valva to give $11,000 from his 401(k) to Zubko-Valva for child support. Valva did not object. The judge also said he would consider appointing an attorney for Valva in the divorce case regarding custody issues only, pending a financial analysis. Zubko-Valva has refused to have an attorney.

Goodstein, referencing the Jan. 27 family court order granting temporary custody of Anthony and Andrew to their mother, told Valva: "You have no access to them whatsoever, you understand that?"

Valva replied: "I understand that."

Goodstein permitted Zubko-Valva to speak at length during the proceeding. She harshly criticized McCabe’s handling of the case, repeating accusations she has long made that McCabe was more interested in helping Valva than looking out for the children, and claimed McCabe is the sister of former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, which the attorney said was false.

McCabe told the judge “I do not wish to address” the mother’s allegations, but added: “I have no relation to Andrew McCabe.”

Zubko-Valva also criticized the court reporter, tasked with taking notes and making a transcript of the hearing, after the veteran court reporter asked a fast-talking Zubko-Valva several times to repeat herself in a courtroom with poor acoustics.

"The court reporter's pretending she can't hear me," said Zubko-Valva, who questioned if the transcript would be accurate and asked the judge for a new court reporter. The judge declined the request.

Outside court, Zubko-Valva said she was “very grateful” that McCabe was off the case.

“Obviously it’s not easy to be in the same courtroom with the murderer of my child," she said, regarding Valva. "But I have to be here for Tommy and I have to fight for justice for Tommy and my other two children.”

The parents are scheduled to be back in court on June 30.



How do lawyers and judges plus the other ppl in court, not just die of depression from.all these things???


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06 Mar 2020, 8:29 pm

Records: At least 33 calls made to police from Valva family homes
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Quote:
Police on Long Island responded to more than 30 calls over four years from the estranged parents of Thomas Valva, the 8-year-old Center Moriches boy who died after he was forced to sleep in a subfreezing garage, records show.

The 33 calls to 911, between 2015 and 2019 to the Suffolk and Nassau county police departments, ranged from child abuse allegations to disputes over visitation issues, records show. These calls occurred during a time period in which Suffolk prosecutors now say the boy was being beaten, starved and kept in frigid temperatures as punishment, according to the records obtained by Newsday. Thomas' father, suspended NYPD transit officer Michael Valva, and his fiancee, Angela Pollina, have been charged in the boy's death.

Suffolk and Nassau police responded to 911 calls to either Thomas’ parents marital home in Valley Stream or the Center Moriches house where Valva and Pollina lived after Valva separated from his wife, Justyna Zubko-Valva, in 2015, records show.

Zubko-Valva was met with hostile treatment by responding officers in Suffolk, she said in documents to internal affairs and the police, alleging she was frequently yelled at, presented with reports riddled with false statements, denied the ability to file written reports and even once was threatened by a Suffolk police officer. And when she made formal complaints to Suffolk's internal affairs against responding officers and their supervisors — alleging they were siding with her husband because he was a police officer — she said she was ignored.

“Did my complaint get swiped under the rug because my husband is NYPD police officer and Suffolk County Police Department is under his enormous influence???” Zubko-Valva wrote in a Jan. 10, 2018, email to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

Suffolk police said they are investigating all of the department's interactions with the family but that its officers are trained to investigate all complaints "without bias."

Newsday obtained and reviewed thousands of pages of documents in Thomas' case, including police reports and court transcripts in both counties, Child Protective Services reports from several caseworkers and assessments from court-appointed lawyers as well as the East Moriches school district.

The documents show systems intended to protect children ultimately ignored multiple warnings, including those from Zubko-Valva, who painstakingly documented the alleged abuse of her sons.

The NYPD opened an investigation in 2019 after Michael Valva, a 15-year department member, filed a complaint against Zubko-Valva over an alleged incident that occurred between the two on March 13, 2019, in Suffolk County, according to written correspondence between the department and Zubko-Valva. The allegations and circumstances of the alleged incident were never disclosed to Zubko-Valva, according to the documents. It’s unclear why the NYPD would investigate an incident that allegedly occurred in Suffolk.

The NYPD's Transit Bureau Investigations headed the probe, during the time when Valva worked in transit. The complaint, as of August, was called a "pending criminal investigation" by the department.

During that investigation, Zubko-Valva alleged to an NYPD sergeant that the children were abused by both Valva and Pollina and provided the NYPD with multiple reports from school officials that were made to the state CPS hotline, which resulted in the NYPD opening a separate Internal Affairs probe into Valva. The investigation ultimately deemed the abuse allegations "unfounded,” the documents said.

The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Wieslaw J. Walawender, a family friend and adviser to Zubko-Valva, called the NYPD’s investigation into Zubko-Valva a “scare tactic” and “something to use against her in the divorce battle.”

“They are accusing her, telling her they are investigating her but not telling her what they are investigating,” said Walawender, who has known Zubko-Valva’s family for several decades, going back to their native Poland. “That sounds worse than a banana republic.”

Valva, who was suspended without pay shortly before his Jan. 24 arrest, spent most of his career in transit. Zubko-Valva began working as a New York City correction officer in the years since the pair separated.

In an emailed complaint to Suffolk’s Internal Affairs, Zubko-Valva described trying to file a report at Suffolk’s Fifth Precinct on Jan. 15, 2018, alleging Thomas was beaten by his father, alleging the boy had “bruises, coagulated blood, black and blues and dark red spots on his buttocks,” but being met with resistance.

“As soon as PO [Laurie Ann] McManus heard that Michael Valva is NYPD police officer, then she did not want to listen to my whole testimony,” Zubko-Valva wrote. “She started to change my testimony in order to protect Michael Valva because he is a police officer.”

Zubko-Valva wrote that the officer dismissed the seriousness of the alleged beating and told her “you are allowed to spank your children if you want to.”

Zubko-Valva then spoke to her supervisor, Sgt. William Krause. “I told him that my son is autistic and nobody is allowed to hit him to cause physical injuries to his body because that is abuse. He claimed that I am wrong and that it is OK to hit the child, even with special needs,” she wrote.

In a letter to Zubko-Valva later that year, Deputy Insp. John Cahill, executive officer at Suffolk’s Fifth Precinct, said McManus and Krause were "exonerated" and added that their actions were "legal, proper and within department guidelines."

Suffolk police officials did not respond to Zubko-Valva's specific allegations presented in a Newsday inquiry but in a written statement said it was investigating the family's interactions with police.

2018, Zubko-Valva made a domestic report at a precinct, police said, without specifying that allegation. Three internal affairs investigations were conducted in 2018 in response to complaints Zubko-Valva filed, police said. Noting the probes are "confidential," the department did not provide its findings.

Meanwhile, Valva, according to Suffolk police, called 911 12 times in 2017, with two of the calls related to visitation. Three of those calls were related to "other individuals reporting him to CPS" and eight of the calls were unrelated to the case, police said. He also made a report at a precinct in 2018 to document CPS being called on him, police said.

The department added: "Every call to 911 made by Zubko-Valva and Valva were responded to and documented. As per the department’s Rules and Procedures, when appropriate, the proper referrals were made to NYPD, NYC Department of Correction and Child Protective Services."

Zubko-Valva, in addition to writing to U.S. Attorney General William Barr seeking help in her case, also wrote to President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and filed complaints with the U.S. Attorney's Office against judges and attorneys in the case in her divorce and family court cases.

Zubko-Valva also filed complaints about alleged police misconduct with the Suffolk District Attorney's Office in December 2018, in which she said Suffolk police "are unlawfully hiding the criminal actions of Michael Valva and Angela Pollina because Michael Valva is police officer who has close relationship with Suffolk County Police."

A Suffolk prosecutor forwarded her complaint to the police department's Internal Affairs, which Zubko-Valva objected to.

She also filed a complaint with the Nassau District Attorney's Office that same month but received a letter, in which her name was misspelled, explaining that her allegations would not be prosecuted due to a lack of evidence.

Nassau police have said they responded to 21 calls to the Zubko-Valva Valley Stream home, with 11 of the calls made by Michael Valva and the other 10 by Zubko-Valva.

Most of the calls — 16 — were associated with “visitation disputes and were referred to family court,” said Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a Nassau police spokesman. And in 2016, Nassau police’s Special Victims Squad, along with CPS, investigated a sexual abuse allegation, which netted “no evidence to support this allegation,” LeBrun said.

Zubko-Valva has alleged that two of her sons were sexually abused by their father. In a July 2019 letter to Barr, she said Nassau’s Second Precinct “did not conduct ANY investigation” into the sex abuse allegations in 2016. She said detectives didn’t test evidence.

“Whatever medical evidence that could lead to uncovering the truth, were probably destroyed because Michael Valva is police officer who is above the law,” she wrote.

On Dec. 30, 2015 — the same day Valva filed for divorce — Zubko-Valva called Nassau police claiming the children had not "eaten all day" while with their father, according to a CPS document.

LeBrun said police deemed the complaint "unfounded" and said police saw the children returning home with their father who "had [a] McDonalds bag filled with food in his hands."

LeBrun added that Nassau police notified the NYPD of all the department’s interactions with Valva, as required.

“The Nassau County Police Department stands by our recent statement that we provided and are confident in the fact that all allegations were thoroughly investigated," LeBrun said. "Since this is an ongoing homicide investigation, we cannot provide further details."

On Dec. 17, 2017 — three months after Nassau State Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman granted custody of the boys to Valva — Zubko-Valva called Suffolk police at 9:14 a.m. complaining Valva refused to hand over the children for their scheduled visit.

The mother claimed the Suffolk officers responded, but “were angry and annoyed when I told them the report has false information and needs to be corrected.” The officers ultimately allowed her to write her own account, but she said they were “extremely angry that I wrote my own truthful statements regarding this incident.”

She said the sergeant on the scene “threatened me with calling my job and reporting me to Internal Bureau Affair, even though he is responsible to write truthful and impartial police report.”

About two weeks later, on New Year's Eve in 2017, Zubko-Valva called 911 to complain the children were not ready at their 9 a.m. pickup time. She said she told police "children are being abused in father's house and the oldest son lost in a week more than 4 lb."

Zubko-Valva claimed in court papers that the responding Suffolk officers refused to make a report and didn't speak to her at the scene.

But a police report detailing the incident shows the responding officer wrote that Zubko-Valva, who was listed as the victim on the report, “wished to document ongoing visitation problem with husband.” The report had noted there were three prior reports made to police regarding visitation.

Zubko-Vala, according to the report, “made repeated 911 calls” but “refuses to cooperate” and “identified herself as NYC Corrections officer … [and] demanded to pick what officer responds” to the home.

The officer wrote that the mother’s first words to the responding officer were: “Why are you here? Are you the only cop around? I don’t want you.”

The officer checked “no” on the report to the question: “Is there reasonable cause to suspect a child may be the victim of abuse, neglect, maltreatment or endangerment?”

The incident was the subject of testimony in Zubko-Valva’s trial in Suffolk County Family Court on allegations she abused the children. Judge Bernard Cheng found no evidence that the mother abused the children in an April 12, 2019, order, during which he recited the details of the incident in which the mother testified to, which vary from the police report.

“A police officer arrived at about 9:30 a.m. or 9:45 a.m. but he refused to make a report and left the scene,” Cheng wrote, citing the mother’s testimony. “Ms. Zubko-Valva surmised the officer refused to make a report because Mr. Valva, the father, is a New York City Police Officer. A little while after the officer left, the father's girlfriend, Ms. Pollina, came out of the house with the children. The children were placed in the car and the mother got back on the phone with a police supervisor to make a report of the incident. While on the phone, the mother was told Ms. Pollina had also called the police. The mother continued to wait for the police to arrive to make a report. Then at around 10:30 am three police cars pulled up and went into the father's home. They stayed for about 15 minutes then left without speaking to the mother. The mother testified she left when the police left.”

The police contacts were reported to CPS, which wrote its own reports on the calls to police. CPS case worker Michele Clark, in a report on Jan. 2, 2018, wrote that she spoke to a Sgt. David Kopycinski, who said he had responded to Valva’s home on both Dec. 17 and Dec. 30, after Zubko-Valva reported the children “were not ready on time.”

Kopycinski, according to Clark, said the mother was “not satisfied” with the way that any responding officer or supervisor “handled the situation as she wants to be able to hand-pick the officer that comes to the home and take her statement word for word.”

Kopycinski, whose first name was not in the paperwork, also told the caseworker that the mother alleged the father and Pollina abused the children but “there is no indication of any kind that this is going on.”

“He reported that Ms. Pollina’s home is immaculate and all 6 children residing in the home appear healthy and well cared for,” the caseworker wrote, adding: “He is aware the situation is in court in Nassau County and is wondering if the situation should be looked at more closely. Sgt. [Kopycinski] reported that the children do not seem to want to visit with [their mother] and they appear reluctant to go with her during the exchange. He stated he can tell something is not right.”

Three months after Valva filed for divorce, his estranged wife made allegations of violence against him in court papers. She claimed he was "physically abusive towards her" and when she attempted to call 911, "He would threaten me that he will lose his job and he will take financial support from me and kids."

Shortly after they married, she wrote in the March 14, 2016, answer to the divorce filing, "My husband pointed his work gun at me and he told me if I disobey him, he will put a bullet in my head."

In bold type, she wrote: "There is a record of it at the NYPD Early Intervention Unit," referring to the unit that offers emotional assistance to officers.

After that, she wrote, she forbade him from bringing his service weapon home and "instead insisted that he left it at work."

Experts differ on police response
Zubko-Valva's assertion that her estranged husband got preferential treatment because he is a police officer looms large in the case. Experts disagreed on whether Valva's status as an NYPD officer meant he received preferential treatment from his fellow officers as he and his wife battled for custody of their sons.

Anthony Zenkus, an adjunct professor who teaches family violence and trauma at Adelphi and Columbia universities, said even if Valva was not given special treatment, he might have had an advantage.

“He’s a guy who knows how to talk to police, because he’s a police officer,” Zenkus said. “If one parent seems like they have it together, and the other doesn’t, this is where being a cop can come in handy.”

Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD sergeant and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, scoffed at the notion that officers would give a fellow cop a pass on child abuse allegations.

"Everyone wants to blame the cops for not doing this or doing that, but these custody battles are absolutely outrageous," said


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16 Jun 2020, 5:48 pm

Thomas Valva's mother files $200 million wrongful death lawsuit in 8-year-old's death
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Long Island officials charged with protecting Thomas Valva, the autistic boy who died of hypothermia in January after being forced to sleep in an unheated garage, ignored years of warnings of sexual abuse, beatings, starvation and neglect, according to a $200 million federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by Thomas’ mother.
The 99-page lawsuit, filed by Justyna Zubko-Valva in Central Islip federal court, said a Nassau judge, Suffolk Child Protective Services employees, East Moriches school officials and others are complicit in the boy's death because they dismissed mountains of evidence she presented to them that showed her estranged husband Michael Valva, an NYPD police officer, and his fiancee Angela Pollina abused Thomas and his brothers Anthony and Andrew.
Valva, 41, and Pollina, 42, both of Center Moriches, have been charged with killing Thomas.
“Tommy’s death was not only foreseeable, but completely preventable,” the lawsuit said.
Zubko-Valva’s attorney Jon Norinsberg of Manhattan said the 8-year-old boy’s death — which horrified people across the nation and sparked demands for reforms — raises fresh questions about how police officers accused of wrongdoing are investigated.
“This was truly a conspiracy of silence,” Norinsberg said. “Valva was protected because he was a police officer. If he had been a normal citizen, he would have been arrested and put in jail. But because he was a police officer, the defendants looked the other way and let him get away with this horrific abuse.”
Zubko-Valva said in a statement that she filed the lawsuit to protect other children from abuse and to promote legislation she calls “Tommy’s Law” that would initiate reforms in child protection and accountability.
“The first step should require cameras in the courtrooms during the proceedings, and body cameras on all CPS caseworkers, Attorneys for the children, and forensic evaluators during any interactions with the children and their parents," Zubko-Valva said.
The lawsuit echoes many of the conclusions Newsday reached in February after an exhaustive review of thousands of pages of documents in the case that showed systems intended to protect kids failed to respond to multiple warnings about Thomas’ abuse.
“There’s no amount of money that we could come up with that would express the outrage we have with the death of a child,” Norinsberg said. “This is a complete systemic failure.”
The defendants include Nassau Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman, who the court papers said failed to review evidence of abuse and improperly awarded temporary custody of Thomas and his brothers Anthony and Andrew to Valva without a hearing in 2017. A spokesman for state courts said he could not comment on pending litigation.
Suffolk County and Child Protective Services officials are also among the defendants. “We are unable to comment at this time due to pending litigation,” said Marykate Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
The lawsuit said East Moriches Union Free School District superintendent Charles Russo and East Moriches Elementary School Principal Edward Schneyer turned a blind eye to evidence of abuse. East Moriches school officials did not return requests for comment.
The lawsuit alleges Attorneys Shana Curti, who represented Valva in his divorce proceedings, and Donna McCabe, who was appointed to represent the estranged couple’s children during the divorce, also ignored evidence of abuse and conspired with Valva to win custody of his sons. Curti and McCabe did not return calls for comment.
Valva and Pollina were charged earlier this year with second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child. Both have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting resolution of the case in Suffolk jails. Valva remains suspended from the NYPD, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
At a brief conference Tuesday in Valva and Pollina’s criminal case, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William Condon set a July 7 deadline for the prosecution to turn over evidence to the defense. Both defendants waived their virtual appearances, their Attorneys said. The case is due back in court July 7.
John LoTurco, Valva’s criminal defense attorney, said he’ll review the lawsuit with his client and help him retain legal representation.
“We believe the lawsuit is viable to some extent in reference to Child Protective Services as well as Center Moriches School District in that we feel that they were negligent in the care of Thomas and Anthony Valva. ... So we can understand the nature of the lawsuit, but it doesn’t have any impact on the representation of our client in the criminal realm. .”
Matthew Tuohy, Pollina's attorney said: “ I understand the serious nature and sensitivity in connection with this case. All I can say is how sorry I am for the family, but also that my client maintains her innocence, “ said
Suffolk police and prosecutors say Thomas died after Valva and Pollina forced him and Anthony to sleep in an unheated garage at their home as temperatures outside fell to just 19 degrees. Authorities have said Thomas, Anthony and Andrew were frequently denied food or access to toilets, and were frequently sent to school in soiled, urine-soaked clothing. Suffolk prosecutor Kerriann Kelly described Valva’s and Pollina’s Bittersweet Lane home as a “house of horrors” at a hearing in February.
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini empaneled a special grand jury in March to investigate the circumstances surrounding Thomas’ death and make recommendations on reforming Child Protective Services, the judiciary and law-enforcement.
Bellone appointed two committees to investigate Thomas’ death and propose reforms. A Suffolk County legislative panel Tuesday approved a package of Bellone-backed bills to reform Child Protective Services.
The lawsuit comes as the county is considering cuts to services due to shrinking tax revenues due to the coronavirus crisis.
Cries of poverty, however, are unlikely to satisfy Zubko-Valva or the hundreds of supporters who attended rallies across Long Island seeking reforms and justice for Thomas in the wake of the boy’s death.
“Little Tommy would still be alive,” Norinsberg said, “if these defendants had done their jobs properly.”


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08 Jul 2020, 9:10 pm

Valva case prosecutor says she's turned over 'voluminous' evidence to defense

Quote:
The lead prosecutor in the case of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, who authorities said was killed by his NYPD officer father and his fiancee after they forced the boy to sleep in a freezing garage, said Tuesday she’s provided “voluminous” evidence to defense attorneys.

The evidence provided, she said, includes records from Child Protective Services, witness statements to investigators as well as video, photo and audio evidence.

The records also include the 911 call Michael Valva made to police on the morning his son died, as well as “his call to his precinct while his son was being taken to the hospital,” said prosecutor Kerriann Kelly, chief of the Suffolk district attorney’s homicide bureau.

Kelly, speaking during a brief conference held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, added that prosecutors are still awaiting Thomas’ finalized autopsy report, but notes from the autopsy have been turned over to the defense.

Both Michael Valva, 41, and Angela Pollina, 42, have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the Jan. 17 death of Thomas. A third-grader at East Moriches Elementary School on the autism spectrum, Thomas died from hypothermia, after authorities said he was forced by Valva and Pollina to sleep in an unheated garage as temperatures outside dipped to 19 degrees.

“Anything that we have in our possession related to this case, we believe that we have turned over at this point,” Kelly said. “I believe we have provided everything that we are required to provide by the discovery statute. And of course, the attorneys totally understandably need time to go through all those materials. It is quite voluminous.”

Both defendants waived their appearances for Tuesday’s conference, according to their attorneys.

Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Condon on Tuesday set a tentative date of July 28 to certify the defense attorneys’ receipt of the records. As part of the pretrial discovery process, prosecutors are required to provide to criminal defendants, through their defense attorneys, access to evidence to be used in their prosecutions. A potential trial date was not discussed Tuesday.

alva's attorney, John LoTurco, who has said Thomas' death was an accident and there was an electric space heater turned on in the garage, said Tuesday the documents would take hundreds of hours to review along with his co-counsel Anthony LaPinta.

Pollina's attorney, Matthew Tuohy, who has sought to shift blame for Thomas' death away from his client, said he was awaiting a flash drive with the documents.

Thomas’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, attended the virtual conference. In a text message afterward, she said she was "completely shocked" that her son's autopsy report has not been completed.

"This is not acceptable and raises enormous concerns about the impartiality of this autopsy report," Zubko-Valva said. "I still cannot comprehend why Michael Valva, who severely and brutally abused my children, received a gift from the court in the form of not one, but two high-paid Attorneys who are being funded by our tax money to defend Michael Valva's criminal actions."

Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, did not provide comment.

Zubko-Valva last month filed a $200 millionlawsuit in federal court accusing Child Protective Services, school officials, a Nassau judge and others of misconduct she said led to Thomas' death.

Newsday has reported that a review of thousands of records in the sprawling divorce and custody battle shows that systems intended to protect children ultimately ignored multiple warnings of Thomas' abuse.

Thomas had been living with his father and two brothers — Anthony and Andrew 6, — and Pollina and her three daughters from two previous relationships, since September 2017, when Valva's estranged wife, Zubko-Valva, lost custody of the boys during a contentious divorce battle in Nassau County.


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NYPD Officer Charged with Murder of Autistic Son, 8, Resigns From Police Force in Bid to Save Pension


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My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person. - Sara Luterman