Mom of ‘House of Horrors’ Boy Wants Those Who Failed Him to Pay
Tommy Valva’s mother filed a $200 million lawsuit against those who ignored her pleas before the autistic 8-year-old died in a freezing garage.
Tommy Valva was an 8-year-old who was battered and starved and terrorized for a quarter of his life before a surveillance camera recorded his final hours freezing to death in the unheated garage where his father consigned him.
“Tommy shivering and shaking in the garage, and holding himself, because he needed to use the bathroom, looking into the… camera with pleading eyes for someone to help him,” reads a description of the Jan. 17 video in a $200 million lawsuit his mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva of Long Island, filed on Tuesday against a host of people who had a duty to protect her son.
The suit notes that the surveillance system also picked up a conversation between the father, an NYPD police officer, and his live-in fiancée when the boy tried to walk the next morning following a night without bedding on the bare concrete garage floor. He pitched forward and died.
“He keeps face-planting on the concrete,” the father, Michael Valva said.
“You know why he’s falling,” the fiancée, Angela Pollina said.
“Because he’s cold,” the father replied. “Boo fucking hoo.”
The mother’s suit suggests there would have been a very different outcome if the supposed protectors had acted upon any of the any complaints and considerable evidence the mother presented.
“Tommy would still be alive,” the suit says.
As has been widely reported and recounted with some added details in the suit, Tommy and his two brothers, 10-year-old Anthony and 6-year-old Andrew, were living happily with their mother when she and their father began divorce proceedings. Tommy’s teachers were among the witnesses who described her as loving and uncommonly devoted. The father and his attorney and the court-appointed attorney representing the children convinced New York State Supreme Court Judge Hope Schwartz Zimmerman that the mother was so unstable that the boys would be better off with their father. The mother is a corrections officer, and there was a groundless suggestion that this made her a threat to the children because she is authorized to carry a gun. No such suggestion was made about the cop father.
On Sept. 6, 2017, the judge awarded the father full custody even though a previous judge had prohibited him from staying overnight in the home after allegations that he had taken cellphone pics of his genitals to send to women after tucking the children in bed but before they were asleep.
The mother subsequently reported to the police and child protective services that the boys were being sexually abused, along with two young girls, by the father and his fiancée. The suit says the father ordered the boys to “kiss [the girls] below their belly button, and touch their private parts.”
“Valva would order the children to strip naked and walk around without any clothing,” the suit alleges. “And Valva and Pollina would walk around the house naked.”
Along with a report of sexual abuse, the mother presented to the court and to child protective services a letter written by an educational specialist, Dr. Kimberly Berens of Fit Learning in Manhattan. Berens worked with the older boy, Anthony, who is also autistic.
“I am completely shocked and saddened by the removal of Justyna Valva’s children from her custody,” she wrote. “In the two years that I have known her, I have only seen the most devoted and loving mother attempting to do everything possible for her children. Anthony adores Justyna and I never observed ANY evidence of abuse or maltreatment that would lead a judge to remove a child from his/her mother and issue an order preventing a mother from even seeing her child. Nothing about this ruling is in the best interests of Anthony or his siblings. It is highly likely that this ruling will create regression, as well as extreme psychological and emotional distress for all of these children and I cannot imagine any scenario that justified this course of events.”
The father retained custody even after Tommy had so many bruises child protective services actually took notice. The father was let off with a few hours of anger management classes. Tommy continued to suffer even more bruises.
The suit names as defendants one judge, seven child protection investigators, five attorneys and two senior school officials. It outlines the case notes in stanzas of shame that each begin with: “For a period of over 2 years, Plaintiff Justyna Zubko-Valva repeatedly complained to Defendants in writing and verbally…”
Then, “...about the visible physical injuries on her children, including but not limited to, multiple bruises in green, brown, and red color, dark red marks, coagulated blood spots, broken blood vessels, caused by Valva's severe and brutal beatings.”
And then, “...that her children were coming to school crying and hungry, and were literally begging for food at school, eating crumbs off of the floor, eating out of garbage cans, and going under the bleachers in the gym to try to find food.”
And then, “...about the fact that her children were repeatedly coming to school with visible dirt on their bodies, and in urine-soaked clothes.”
And then, “... that her children had experienced marked and severe weight loss since living with their father, with Anthony and Thomas having a BMI of less than one (1) percent.”
And then, “...that her children were coming to school wearing diapers -- having bathroom accidents and not being able to control their bowel movements -- despite having been fully potty trained since two (2) years of age.”
And then, “...that the children were repeatedly forced to sleep in subfreezing temperatures on a cement slab in the garage.”
And then, “...that the children were locked in the garage without any food, water, pillows or blankets, and without any access to a bathroom.”
The suit adds that during this same period she repeatedly reported that “her children appeared to have marked and severe loss of muscle tone throughout their bodies.” She “repeatedly implored Defendants to take action and remove the children from the home of Valva and Pollina.” She also “provided Defendants with overwhelming and irrefutable evidence of abuse, including documentary evidence, audio recordings and transcriptions, photographic evidence, and medical evidence.”
She further “provided Defendants with her children’s own recorded statements regarding the enormous physical and mental abuse that they were suffering at the hands of Valva and Pollina,” the suit says.
She also “specifically warned Defendants, verbally and in writing, that her children were in ‘enormous danger of losing their lives by Michael Valva and Angelina Pollina.’”
The mother voiced one of these warnings during a hearing in Nassau Family Court last July. She had gone there seeking to regain custody of her sons. Judge Joseph Lorintz ruled for the father.
Mother: “Why? On what basis? The children’s life is in danger, your honor.”
Judge: "Because I said so.”
Mother: “Is your honor waiting for my child to die under the care of Michael Valva and Angela Valva?” Because that’s what it’s leading to. (The father) is hitting the children, beating them up. Nothing is being done."
Judge: “Call the authorities.”
Lest anyone imagine the mother's suit is naming all those who failed the Valva sons, Lorintz is not one of the defendants. And those who are named do not include all the authorities she called before and after that hearing. She tried everybody she would think of and nobody did anything save for a number of teachers who did report signs of abuse.
On the morning of Tommy’s death, the father went from joking about him being cold to trying to warm up his corpse in a bathtub before the police responded. The father initially tried to say Tommy had fallen and hit his head while dashing to catch the school bus. He and his fiancée were charged with murder and they are being held without bail pending trial.
Exactly a month after Tommy’s death, the mother went with her surviving sons to the cemetery. The youngest boy, Andrew, stood by his brother’s grave.
“Tommy, I wish you were alive,” he said. “You wouldn't have died if it wasn’t for the people who were bad to you. I wish you were alive so we could spend time with mom and have a good life. I’m really sorry this happened to you. Rest In Peace my big brother.”
On Tuesday, the defendants named in the suit either did not respond to a question for comment or replied that they do not discuss ongoing litigation. They can be sure it will indeed go on.
And they had better hope Andrew gets nowhere near a witness stand.