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Mother of Autistic 8-Year-Old Boy Who Froze to Death in His Father’s Garage Can Press $200M Lawsuit Against CPS Officials and School, Judge Rules

Michael Valva via CBS New York

Michael Valva (center) is being prosecuted in connection with his son’s death.

The mother of an 8-year-old who froze to death in his father’s garage can press her $200 million lawsuit against child protective services officials, the boy’s school, the county and others, a federal judge ruled.

On Jan. 17, 2020, Suffolk County man Michael Valva and his girlfriend Angela Pollina allegedly locked his son Thomas Valva in a garage as a form of punishment, and the young boy froze to death. Authorities later charged Valva and Pollina with second-degree murder, and both are currently awaiting trial, which has seen extensive delays in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, a federal judge advanced a civil lawsuit against various authorities whom mother Justyna Zubko-Valva claims should have intervened.

According to her lawsuit, Michael Valva, a former NYPD officer, subjected the 8-year-old and his brothers to “sadistic” punishments for years, forcing them to eat hot pepper, denying them access to a bathroom, and leaving them home alone without food or water.

“Forcing Tommy and [his brother] Anthony to sleep in subfreezing temperatures on a cold, cement slab in the garage was so common in Mr. Valva and Ms. Pollina’s household that they referred to the garage as the ‘kid’s room,'” U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman wrote in a 37-page ruling, summarizing the allegations of the complaint.

Court records indicate Tommy and Anthony were both autistic.

“While the barbaric acts of Mr. Valva and Ms. Pollina are directly responsible for Tommy’s death, there is an institutional actor that is almost as culpable,” Judge Korman continued.

In three separate rulings filed late last week, Korman rattled off the private and government actors still on the hook for possible civil liability in the autistic boy’s death. They broadly break down into defendants associated with Child Protective Services, who face allegations of deliberate indifference; the boy’s school district, which faces wrongful death claims; and various attorneys accused of malpractice. The judge advanced all three tranches of cases, in mixed rulings.

The boy’s mother claims that she presented the school with more than two years’ worth of evidence before her son’s death of the father’s alleged abuse, including audio recordings, photographic evidence, and medical evidence.

“Mrs. Valva was so worried about the children that she emailed the school’s principal that the children were in ‘enormous danger of losing their lives by Michael Valva and [Angela] Pollina,'” the ruling states, summarizing the allegations. “In January 2018, Mrs. Valva alleges that ‘the School Defendants saw clear, irrefutable proof that Tommy had been physically beaten and abused by [Mr.] Valva, with severe bruising in his lower spine and buttocks area.'”

According to the mother, the school did not report suspicions of the father’s abuse until September 2018, a full year after Michael Valva was awarded custody of the children.

The mother says that Michael Valva tried to reverse the child abuse accusations, telling CPS that the mother was hitting the children and poisoning them with a toxic “brown medicine.”

Justyna Zubko-Valva says that she provided CPS officials with a flash drive containing 320 files of direct evidence showing that the opposite was true, including transcripts of the father brainwashing the children to repeat phrases like “I don’t love mommy,” “mommy is mean,” and “I don’t want to stay with mommy.”

The lawsuit alleges that CPS investigators lied repeatedly to advance the neglect investigation against the mother and fabricated evidence against her. According to the ruling, a judge dismissed that neglect petition and ordered CPS to investigate abuse allegations against the father. Despite reports that the children looked “emaciated,” CPS closed out its final investigation 10 days before Tommy Valva’s death, the mother says.

Read the opinion against the schools, below:

(Screenshot via CBS New York)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."