(NEW YORK) — A special grand jury is expected to examine the events that lead to an 8-year-old boy freezing to death inside his NYPD cop dad’s garage, prosecutors announced.
“Immediately following the tragic death of Thomas Valva, I assembled a team of expert prosecutors in the area of child abuse and child fatalities to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a statement Monday.
Michael Valva, 40, and his fiance, Angela Pollina, 42, were both charged in a five-count indictment for the Jan. 17 second-degree murder of Thomas Valva, who has autism.
During the initial investigation into Thomas’ death, prosecutors reviewed “voluminous records” and interviewed “numerous witnesses” that made it “clear that it is appropriate and in the public’s interest to convene a Special Grand Jury to conduct a thorough investigation of all the circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas Valva,” Sini said.
The special panel may investigate Child Protective Services (CPS), a source familiar with the case told ABC News. Request for further comment from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office was not immediately received.
“This has nothing to do with the charges related to Michael Valva,” attorney John LoTurico told ABC News on Tuesday. “The term ‘special grand jury’ has the intention is to file a report, meaning they make recommendations for organizations to change behaviors and procedures.”
At the end of the panel’s investigation, a report will be released, Sini said.
For more than a year, Thomas’ biological mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, said she alerted Nassau County Family Court judges to remove her three children from her estranged husband’s custody.
Thomas was allegedly forced by his father and Pollina to sleep inside their unheated garage on Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches overnight in 19 degree weather.
The next morning, Valva called 911 saying Thomas fell in the driveway and was unresponsive.
Valva, a New York Police Department officer since 2005, has been suspended without pay, according to an NYPD department spokeswoman.
When first responders arrived at the house, Valva was giving his son CPR in the basement, prosecutors said. It was later determined at the hospital that Thomas had died from hypothermia, officials said.
“Everyone is assuming he is guilty of murder. Murder is not what we have here,” said LoTurico. “He tried to render aid, CPR, mouth to mouth, he tried to resuscitate his son, he called 911. He didn’t have intent to kill or deprave indifference.”
Valva is “distraught” and has been on suicide watch since his arrest, his attorney said, adding that his office has received several death threats and hate mail since agreeing to take on the case.
“I have had numerous homicide cases in my career and never has my office received this type of backlash,” LoTurico noted. “Despite the outrageous charges, Michael Valva is still entitled to a presumption of innocence and to a fair trial.”
Valva and Pollina have entered not guilty pleas to the charges. Request for comment from Pollina’s attorney Matt Tuohy was not received.
Since Thomas’ death, the CPS Transformation Act — a collective of six bills — was introduced. It is expected to reform the system with new laws including a specialized unit for all cases involving children with special needs.
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