Enablers in the Murder of Little Tommy Valva

Angela Pollina, like her live-in lover, NYPD cop Michael Valva, has now been convicted of murdering Valva’s autistic 8-year-old son Thomas, and sentenced, like Valva, to the maximum 25 years-to-life in prison. Good.

Now it is time to focus on who else bears responsibility for this horrific case of child abuse and murder.

“How did all of us, as a community, allow this to happen?” Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Condon asked as he sentenced Valva last December.

Well, “all of us” did NOT allow this to happen. Those in whom we put our trust—to uphold our laws, to protect the innocent—allowed this to happen.

I am frankly tired of hearing that “the system” failed Thomas and his brothers. That depersonalizes responsibility. It was individuals within the system who forced these boys to live with Valva and Pollina in that house of horrors; individuals within the system who ignored desperate pleas for intervention “by their mother, their teachers and school psychologists,” as the Daily News recounted; individuals within the system who repeatedly denigrated and disrespected the boys’ mother when she appealed for help.

To the extent that the failures go beyond the individuals involved—reflecting overall shortcomings in “the system”—it is, again, those individuals we put our trust in—officials at various levels of government—who created that system, and failed to effectively monitor its functioning.

Most fingers are being pointed at Child Protective Services (CPS), with good reason—especially once personnel in the boys’ East Moriches Elementary school “flood(ed) the CPS hotline with calls,” according to principal Edward Schneyer.

According to a Newsday timeline, as early as February 2018—almost two years before Thomas was murdered—a “CPS report produce(d) evidence that Valva’s actions place(d) the six kids—his boys and Pollina’s three daughters—at risk of physical, mental and emotional harm.” Yet neither that, nor subsequent CPS investigations prompted by reports from the school about the boys’ hunger, emaciated condition, evidence of brutal beatings, and arrival at school in urine-soaked clothing, spurred the agency to action.

But CPS is not alone.

“From cops and social workers to lawyers and judges,” the New York Post reported shortly after Thomas’ death, “Long Island mom Justyna Zubko-Valva claims no one took her warnings about her NYPD cop husband, Michael Valva, seriously.”

Underlying it all is the question of what role Michael Valva’s being a cop—and Justyna Zubko-Valva an immigrant—played in him being constantly favored and shielded from scrutiny, while she was constantly degraded, her complaints and warnings routinely dismissed.

Amid contentious divorce and custody proceedings, the Post reported, Thomas, along with his two brothers, “was sent to the house of horrors by…Nassau County Judge Hope Schwartz Zimmerman…who ripped him from his mother’s custody without even holding a hearing.” (My emphasis)

While both sides traded claims of abuse, the mom’s lawyer presented an audio tape of Valva and Pollina “coaching the boys to speak badly of her.” But that apparently didn’t faze Judge Zimmerman, or Donna McCabe, the lawyer appointed to represent the children, who according to the Post argued for a change of custody to Valva, assuring the court that “they will be safe.” (My emphasis)

Two years later, during a hearing on whether Valva should retain custody—after he had served a year’s probation for physically abusing the boys—Suffolk County Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng listed his ongoing concerns, including physical evidence of more beatings and the boys’ continued weight loss.

Suffolk Assistant County Attorney Randall Rajti, objecting to further investigation, dismissed these injuries and health concerns as “non-issues,” according to the Daily News. “Cheng disagreed,” but nevertheless “left the three boys in their deranged dad’s custody.” (My emphasis)

As she desperately struggled to rescue her boys, Zubko-Valva was herself charged with neglect, a charge later dismissed. “One Suffolk Family Court prosecutor slammed her as ‘mentally ill,’” the Post reported. Tragically, Zubko-Valva was telling the truth, presciently warning Cheng that the boys “are in extreme danger of their lives.” But no one in “the system” wanted to listen.

“I don’t know if it’s because he’s a cop. I don’t know if it’s because he had powerful friends in powerful places,” the Post quoted autism expert Kimberly Berens, who worked with Thomas and his brother Anthony (also on the autism spectrum, and also cruelly abused by Valva and Pollina). “There were a number of professionals that a judge could have reached out to, to judge our experience with Justyna as a mother. Not one person contacted me.”

Was intimidation a factor? According to Newsday, prosecutors reported that Valva, while disputing with school officials over their reporting of the boys’ condition, showed up at a school open house with his service weapon “openly displayed on his hip.”

Did CPS investigators encounter similar intimidation when they showed up at the Pollina-Valva home?

Then there are the police themselves. In three separate jurisdictions—New York City, where Valva was a transit cop; Nassau County, where Zubko-Valva lived; and Suffolk County, where the boys were forced by the courts to live with Pollina and Valva—police blew off Zubko-Valva’s allegations about her estranged husband.

In a police report in Nassau’s Second Precinct, Newsday reported, the officer dismissed her complaint about the boys being abused as her “going for the custody.”

In Suffolk’s Fifth Precinct, Newsday reported, Zubko-Valva said Officer Laurie Ann McManus “did not want to hear her full story” about Valva abusing Thomas, “then the officer tried to change it to support Valva.” McManus refused to take down the mom’s description of her son’s “bruises, coagulated blood, black and blues and dark red spots on his buttocks,” Zubko-Valva said; then, she said, the sergeant on duty, William Krause, interjected, telling her, “you are allowed to spank your children.” (If that’s what Sgt. Krause considers an acceptable spanking, I wouldn’t want to be his kid.)

Now I am no anti-law enforcement agitator. I served as spokesman for the Nassau DA’s office, and I count many prosecutors, past and present, as well as a number of judges, among my friends. I also have many friends and relatives who are current or retired police officers. I “back the blue” and have the utmost respect and gratitude for all the courageous cops who put their lives on the line for us every day.

But I also know there are cops who don’t belong anywhere near a badge, let alone a gun; some who, if they weren’t cops, would be criminals—or, like Michael Valva, are both at the same time. 

And I cannot abide those who cover for them while they harm others; especially where those being harmed are defenseless little children.

I’ve spent most of my career, in Catholic communications, defending the Church. But that did not include defending those priests who were sexually abusing young boys; nor those in the Church who sought to cover up the abuse. All of them—the abusers and those who sought to protect them, rather than their victims—had to be weeded out, and made to face the consequences for their evil deeds.

Likewise in this case—and others involving crimes committed by those in law enforcement. The criminals must be removed from their positions and punished; and so must those who enable their crimes, and further victimize those they prey on, by covering for them.

Police, prosecutors, judges and other court personnel who favored and protected this child-abusing cop, while vilifying his immigrant ex-wife and dismissing her truthful concerns, all helped enable the murder of little Thomas Valva.

They, too, have consequences to face.

They must not be allowed to hide behind a nameless, faceless “system” whose failure to protect these children was a direct result of their individual decisions, actions, or inactions; their demonization of a loving, desperate mother who happened to be an immigrant; and their protection of a child abuser who happened to be a cop.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

4 thoughts on “Enablers in the Murder of Little Tommy Valva

  1. This was indeed a horrific story and I remember it well. As you suggest, there are many people to blame. The problem is, almost none, except the parents involved, will be punished. That is where the issue begins. What about the workers from CPS who failed to remove the child from this house of horrors? Why were they not investigated and fired? It is true that in a divorce case it is not uncommon for untrue allegations to be leveled. But when a child bears PHYSICAL proof of abuse, bruises, hunger, filthy clothing, only a moron or an uncaring or incompetent person could allow such a situation to continue. The judge is the next person who should be fired and removed from office. For the exact same reason. Mere accusations should be viewed warily. But when there is PHYSICAL proof of abuse, failure to act is heinous dereliction of duty. These judges should be removed before another child dies.

    As an adoptive parent I can comment upon the fact that many foster care parents would love to adopt some of these children. But they are prevented from doing so very frequently, because the mandate in the US is ALWAYS “family reunification”. In this scenario, the interest of the PARENTS, the abusers, is always paramount. I would say the average domestic pet has more legal protection than a foster care child. Here, when parents are abusive, long standing drug addicts, or alcoholics who neglect their children, there is no time frame deadline for the parents to meet to get their act together. The child is caught in limbo for years, often til the age of majority when they age out of the system. I recall a case of and addicted mother of a child in foster care, whose ONLY contact with her child was an annual Christmas card. This was considered “ongoing contact”, enough for CPS to deny the loving foster care parents of this child the ability to adopt. Children should never be removed from a home lightly. But when the evidence is undeniable and the abuse ongoing, its time to pull the plus on the “parents”. Every child should be entitled to love, life and a future. Members of the child care bureaucracy who fail at these vital jobs need to be fired immediately or removed from office.


    1. Yes, “dereliction of duty” is an apt description for all those in a position to properly investigate and act to stop this horrible abuse, who refused to do so. I, like you, don’t want children removed from families lightly; but if they cannot be removed–rescued–from a situation such as this, then what is the purpose of the whole Family Court and child protection “system.” Moreover, in this case the alternative of foster care wasn’t even needed, as the boys’ loving mother wanted custody, but had it taken from her.


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