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Educators Testify In Trial Of Ex-NYPD Cop Accused Of Son's Freezing Death: 'He Told Me His Heart Was Pounding'
Michael Valva is accused of making his 8-year-old son undress before hosing him down and forcing him to sleep in an unheated garage as temperatures dipped down to 19 degrees.
Witnesses continue to testify about the alleged inaction of county officials who failed to save a child that was allegedly being abused by his father, a former New York Police Department cop.
Michael Valva, 43, stands accused of the death of his autistic son, Thomas Valva, 8, who was allegedly left to freeze to death in the unheated garage of the family’s Center Moriches, Long Island home in January 2020.
Weeks into the trial, which began late September, school officials have continued to recount instances of alleged abuse, with some teachers crying on the stand in the Suffolk County courthouse on Monday, according to Newsday.
Kelli Wilson, who taught Valva’s third-grade class at East Moriches Elementary School, told prosecutor Kerriann Kelly that she and the school’s principal agreed to call Child Protective Services (CPS) earlier in 2019 after Valva showed up to school with bruises.
According to Wilson, school principal Edward Schneyer agreed, “there is something going on in that home.”
Wilson said Thomas Valva returned from school’s winter recess — days before his death — and that he “looked very frail,” arriving at school with a red face and hands, according to Newsday.
Also taking the stand was Valva’s second-grade teacher, Michelle Cagliano, who was so emotionally distraught that she had to take several breaks from her testimony. Cagliano told jurors she kept a journal to document when Valva begged for food or when he ate students’ discarded food items and crumbs from the floor.
One instance was Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2019, when students returned from a three-day weekend.
“He told me he didn’t eat food all day Monday,” Cagliano testified, Newsday reported. “He told me his heart was pounding.”
Cagliano, like Kelli, reported her concerns to CPS.
Christine MacQuarrie, an educational consultant who works with autistic children within the school district, testified she visited the Valva household for “parent training,” telling the court that the smell of the bedroom belonging to Anthony Valva — Thomas’ then-10-year-old brother — was comparable to a city subway.
Michael Valva allegedly contacted MacQuarrie days later to say her services were no longer needed, MacQuarrie testified on Monday.
Last week, special education teacher Nicole Papa — who also said she called CPS — testified that the Valva brothers were so thin that she could “feel their bones” when she hugged them, according to Long Island's News 12.
Principal Edward Shneyer testified the boys appeared “extremely emaciated” and that their appearances deteriorated throughout the 2019 to 2020 school year, according to Newsday.
“We felt like, as a team, we were not getting the results we wanted to see,” said Schneyer. “We decided, as a team, we were going to just flood the CPS hotline with calls.”
Faculty members called protective services about 20 times to report numerous injuries and instances, including the boys showing up with urine-soaked backpacks and an inability to control their bowels.
Michael Valva allegedly became combative following reports, accusing the school of harassment, according to Schneyer.
Principal Schneyer also worked as a volunteer firefighter and was called to the Bittersweet Lane address, where Thomas Valva was found unresponsive on Jan. 17, 2020, according to Newsday.
“I knew that address because I had to put it in the CPS reports,” Schneyer testified.
Michael Valva, an ex-NYPD cop, and his now-former fiancée, Angela Pollina, both pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges of child abuse. Michael allegedly regularly punished Thomas for soiling himself by making him sleep in the garage and taunting him as he suffered, as shown in home surveillance video that captured Thomas falling face-first into the cement when unable to stand.
On the night in question, Michael allegedly made the child undress before hosing him down and leaving him in the garage as temperatures dipped to the teens. Prosecutors say Michael withheld information from medical personnel, which could have saved the boy’s life.
Michael’s defense Anthony LaPinta, on the other hand, says the abuse falls at the feet of Pollina, whom he described as a “wicked, cruel stepmother.”
Pollina will face charges in a separate trial.
Suffolk County CPS came under intense scrutiny following Valva’s death, prompting two month-long reviews of the case, according to New York’s WCBS-TV. In light of the internal and external examinations, which concluded in 2020, County Executive Steve Bellone announced six new law proposals, including reducing caseloads for county workers and additional training for cases involving children on the autism spectrum.
Courtroom testimony is expected to continue throughout the week.