Man let autistic son freeze to death while dog stayed in warmth, court hears

·3 min read
Former NYPD officer Thomas Valva and his ex-fiancée Angela Pollina are both charged in the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva.  (CBS New York)
Former NYPD officer Thomas Valva and his ex-fiancée Angela Pollina are both charged in the death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva. (CBS New York)

An eight-year-old autistic boy froze to death after being forced to sleep on the garage floor while the family dog was allowed to sleep in a heated storage room, according to new testimony in a pre-trial hearing of 41-year-old NYPD transit officer Michael Valva and his ex ex-fiancée Angela Pollina.

The officer's son, Thomas Valva, was allegedly starved, beaten and locked out of the family’s home in Long Island. He died on 17 January 2020 after reportedly suffering from hypothermia after he soiled his pyjamas and was forced to sleep in the garage where the temperature was around 19 degrees Fahrenheit [-7 Celsius].

Thomas’s mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, lost custody of her son when she divorced Mr Valva. His then-fiancée, 42-year-old Angela Pollina, is charged with second-degree murder. They were in charge of six children at the time.

Housekeeper Tyrene Rodriguez was questioned by the Suffolk County prosecutor on Monday, PIX11 reported.

She said during the pre-trial hearing that she would gather cleaning supplies from the room where the dog, called Bella, slept. “And that's a heated room, correct?” the prosecutor asked, prompting Ms Rodriguez to answer “Yes”.

That day the housekeeper said she heard a child crying. “I asked her who was crying, she said ‘Thomas is. He fell running for the bus,’” Ms Rodriguez said during the hearing.

She testified that she heard an electronic voice announcing the opening of the garage door. “And then I looked over my right shoulder, and I saw Mike, Thomas and Angela,” Ms Rodriguez said. “[Thomas] was being, like, escorted between both of them, but he was in front of them.”

She said that they were going to the basement, but Ms Pollina shortly returned visibly upset saying that Thomas wasn’t breathing.

Ms Rodriguez said she rushed to the basement where she heard a 911 operator telling Mr Valva to perform CPR on a hard surface rather than on the couch. Mr Valva moved the boy to the floor.

Paramedics soon arrived and tried to resuscitate Thomas but “realised there was nothing happening,” according to Ms Rodriguez.

The housekeeper added that Mr Valva changed his clothes before getting into the ambulance for the ride to the hospital.

Ms Rodriguez said Ms Pollina seemed well enough to answer questions from police at the house. But a neighbour, Laura Lauretta, testified earlier that when she arrived at the emergency room, Ms Pollina seemed groggy.

Ms Pollina’s defence lawyer Matthew Tuohy took issue with claims of his client being given Xanax before she was later asked by police at the house to sign a search form.

According to theNew York Daily News, a recording from the home was collected by investigators. The couple can reportedly be heard talking about why Thomas couldn’t walk.

“You know why he’s falling,” Ms Pollina reportedly said.

“Because he’s cold,” Mr Valva said. “Boo f***ing hoo.”

The Daily News reported that when Ms Pollina asked Mr Valva what he was doing to Thomas, the officer said: “I’m f***ing suffocating him, that’s what I’m doing.”

Mr Touhy said in January 2020 that the couple denied any involvement in the child’s death.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said at the time: “The depravity of these defendants is shocking.”

“They caused the death of this little boy, then watched him die,” he added.

PIX11 reported that during the trial set for September, the couple will try to pin the blame on each other.

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