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3 arrested after caregivers in New Mexico accused of torturing disabled woman who died


May 20, 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — “Torture” is how New Mexico’s top prosecutor describes the treatment a 38-year-old woman with developmental disabilities endured before her death at the hands of her caregivers, who he said were paid thousands of dollars a month through a special program. intended to offer an alternative to institutional care.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez detailed the woman’s injuries during a news conference on Thursday, saying she died weeks after she was found in the back of a pickup truck as caregivers tried to take her to Mexico to treat her injuries.

“The abuse and neglect he endured was horrific and the injuries he sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor,” Torrez said. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.»

The van used to transport the victim across the US-Mexico border from the city of Rio Rancho, NM on February 27.kob

Three people were arrested and charged Wednesday with abuse and neglect following an investigation that began with the stop at the US-Mexico border in late February.

The case prompted a state review of New Mexico’s entire waiver system for people with developmental disabilities. Social workers spent weeks conducting individual wellness checks on thousands of people with developmental disabilities receiving care through the federally funded waiver program.

More allegations of possible abuse and neglect surfaced, and the state Department of Health canceled contracts with four providers in the Albuquerque area.

An affidavit filed by the Attorney General’s Office details the abuse that resulted in charges filed Wednesday against Angelita Rene Chacon, 52, and Patricia Hurtado, 42, both of Rio Rancho. They face charges of abuse or neglect of a resident resulting in death, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment.

Luz Scott, 53, of Clovis, an acquaintance of the women, has been charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment.

Messages seeking comment from Daniel Lindsey, an attorney on Scott’s list, were not immediately returned. Court records did not indicate whether Chacón and Hurtado already had lawyers.

The women were scheduled to make their first court appearances on Friday.

According to the attorney general’s office, Chacón and Hurtado hired At Home Advocacy and three other contractors to provide supplemental care for the victim. They were getting about $5,000 a month under the waiver program to take care of her.

Prosecutors say a preliminary review of available business records indicates that At Home Advocacy received nearly $250,000 to coordinate care and support for the victim in the three years prior to her death.

Records show the company last visited the home on Jan. 25, a month before the victim was found at the El Paso port of entry.

According to court records, an At Home Advocacy supervisor told FBI agents that the company conducted monthly wellness visits at Chacón’s home, but no «body checks» were conducted during those visits and no injuries were noted. .

Authorities said the woman who died was severely dehydrated and drugged when she was found in the van. She also had numerous open wounds, scabs with exposed bones, and bruises and lacerations on various parts of her body.

They also described markings consistent with being immobilized for a prolonged period of time.

Unable to speak when federal agents discovered her at the border crossing, she was transported to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where she died on April 7. The Associated Press generally does not name people who have been abused.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top health officials had warned that any caregiver who mistreats and abuses people with developmental disabilities or vulnerable would be responsible.

Republican legislative leaders also asked the federal government to investigatesaying that an independent investigation would ensure transparency and could prevent such cases in the future.

Both Torrez and Raúl Bujanda, FBI Agent in Charge in Albuquerque, called the case “a wake-up call” about the treatment of people with developmental disabilities in New Mexico.

The woman who died «could easily have been our loved one,» Bujanda said. “You wait, you demand that your loved one be cared for in such a way that… all you will worry about is making time to go see him.”

Torrez urged the governor and legislators to review the protocols at the state Department of Health. His suggestions included more staff and training, mandatory inspections every 90 days, and new civil and criminal penalties for businesses and suppliers.

He tallied 12 «auditors» for more than 6,000 sites across the state and criticized administrators and the Legislature for relying on care providers to self-report problems.

“That’s one of the fundamental issues that has come up in this case,” Torrez said, suggesting that lucrative state contracts provide no incentive for providers to police themselves.

State Health Secretary Patrick Allen said Thursday an independent investigation is underway to identify any systemic failures that allow abuse or neglect to go unchecked. He also said the agency will continue to refer any other cases of suspected abuse and neglect to the police.

“People with disabilities are often dependent on others for their daily lives. They literally entrust their lives to their caregivers,” Allen said, adding that when their care is covered by a state program, “everyone is responsible and we need to make sure their health and safety needs are met.”