According to affidavit of arrest warrants issued by police to the Sandoval County Magistrate Court, Angelita Chacon, Patricia Hurtado and Luz Scott of Rio Rancho were arrested on May 16 for the abuse of a client which resulted in death on Feb. 27.
Mary Melero, 38, was an intellectually developmentally disabled (IDD) adult.
“The abuse and neglect that she endured was horrific and the injuries she sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor,” said Attorney General Raul Torrez. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.”
Melero’s caregiver, identified as Chacon and her intimate girlfriend Hurtado, drove the victim to the border of Mexico in El Paso, Texas, according to court documents. The van they drove belonged to Scott. They were believed to be seeking medical attention for Melero in Juarez, Mexico, for numerous physical injuries and an apparent infection.
However, they sought medical care for Melero out of state to “thwart social services involvement” due to the extensive injuries.
When they attempted to cross the border, they were searched by border officials who found Melero lying on the floor underneath the back seat of the van. Officials said Melero was unresponsive and unable to speak.
The Attorney General’s office stated that Melero was severely dehydrated and drugged.
Emergency Medical Services escorted her to University Medical Center in El Paso, where she was intubated and unresponsive until her death.
It is reported that the victim was enrolled in Medicaid with the state of New Mexico under the DD Waiver program, which provides those with intellectually developmentally disabilities with services and financial support.
Melero was a client of At Home Advocacy, a privately run business, which placed her in Chacon’s home in Rio Rancho for care. Chacon also takes care of her son, who is IDD as well, documents state.
On March 23, FBI contacted At Home Advocacy for records on Melero and Chacon. It was determined that Melero was placed under Chacon’s care 2 1/2 years ago by AHA.
Before the FBI got involved, several agencies were investigating Melero’s severe abuse and neglect.
“Individuals who have disabilities are at higher risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffery R. Downey, FBI El Paso Field Office. “It’s heart wrenching to uncover instances where the person with disabilities has suffered physical and emotional abuse from a trusted family member or caregiver. The FBI along with our partners at the New Mexico Office of Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, sought justice for the victim in this case and hopefully will send a message to those who prey on the vulnerable will face criminal prosecution.”
According to FBI reports, Chacon told border officers that Melero was her adopted daughter and that she was on the back seat. She told them that they were taking the victim to a hospital in Mexico and that the hospital in Albuquerque could not care for the victim’s wounds.
Hurtado was also questioned and said all she knew was that Chacon was Melero’s caregiver.
When Melero was found, she was not, in fact, on the back seat but under the seat. Reports say she was found on a foam board with a blanket wrapped around her. She had several open wounds on her arms and legs that were covered with dirty bandages. The injuries also appeared to be infected, according to the report.
Border Patrol stated that Melero was in poor health and needed medical attention. They added that she had labored breathing and could not speak, though it looked as though she wanted to.
“However, only tears fell from her eyes,” it says in the report.
The report described Melero as ill-looking and that here lips were purple. There were also stitches on her mouth. The wounds were described as “huge,” and some injuries appeared to be bed sores.
Chacon confirmed that she was the caretaker of Melero with Border Patrol. She added that Melero is autistic and diabetic.
Chacon said she was friends with Melero’s mother before she died a few years ago. She said the stitches were from a fall in the shower two weeks before.
A nurse practitioner working with Border Patrol reported the injuries Melero sustained, including that the victim was in a “lethargic and sedated” state when she was found. The NP added that the injuries were chronic and didn’t fit Chacon’s story.
The NP also said Melero had been in that condition for three days and that they did not believe Chacon was giving Melero proper care, adding that the victim couldn’t have consented to being transported from Rio Rancho to the border.
Melero’s blood pressure was reported as shallow and could have been caused by sepsis, which is a blood infection. She reportedly went into cardiac arrest at the hospital.
After her death, further examination revealed that she suffered several lacerations and cuts to her groin area and posterior, suggesting sexual assault.
Based on evidence and testimony from the doctors and Border Patrol, probable cause was found to issue a warrant for Chacon, Hurtado and Scott.
Chacon and Hurtado are facing neglect of a resident resulting in death charges as well as two counts of false imprisonment, failure to report abuse and neglect and conspiracy to commit abuse and neglect. Chacon faces 19 years in prison while Hurtado could serve up to 20 1/2 years. Scott is charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment; she faces a maximum of three years in prison.
State Reps. Kathleen Cates and Liz Thomson reached out on the incident.
“Being state representatives enables us to speak for the voiceless. It is our mission to provide robust and proactive resources to those who have unique disabilities. We stand by the Attorney General and anyone who strives to join us in creating systemic and effective changes to protect those who need extra support,” they said in a joint message.
Department of Health releases statement
Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Patrick Allen issued a statement following the arrests of Chacon, Hurtado and Scott.
“Many thanks to all of the law enforcement agencies for their due diligence and strong attention to this shocking case of abuse and neglect that we turned over to them,” said Patrick Allen, secretary for DOH. “The arrest and the allegations levied against Angelita Chacon, Patricia Hurtado and Luz Scott are unconscionable and constitute the worst breach of trust DOH has ever seen. We will continue to refer any other cases of abuse and neglect to law enforcement for investigation. As the governor stated earlier, ‘I you abuse or neglect those in your care, we are coming for you.’ Any form of abuse, harm or neglect is unacceptable, and the rights and safety of the people we support and serve are our highest priorities.”
Upon learning of this case, DOH took immediate action and terminated agreements with the four providers involved: At Home Advocacy, Inc., Albuquerque; A New Vision Case Management, Corrales; Lynn Barbour, LLC, Albuquerque; Sylvester & Company, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.
“This shocking case prompted DOH to conduct and complete in-person wellness checks on all individuals being cared for under the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver (DD Waiver) programs to ensure they are in good health and being well cared for by providers,” it said in the release.
State leadership and the DOH also immediately established what is now an ongoing independent, third-party investigation evaluating both the agency’s Developmental Disabilities Support Division and the Division of Health Improvement procedures to identify systemic flaws that allowed the alleged incidents to occur.
That independent investigation, conducted by German Burnette & Associates in partnership with Accenture, a company that specializes in Medicaid issues, will report its findings to the state and will be shared publicly when completed.
“The Department of Health will use every tool at our disposal to make sure we are doing everything we can to prevent future cases of abuse and neglect of our DD Waiver clients,” said Allen. “Persons with disabilities often rely on others for their day-to-day living. They literally entrust their caregivers with their lives. This vulnerable population has inherent difficulty advocating for itself and are highly dependent on caregivers, often in the caregiver’s own home. People with developmental and intellectual disabilities are people who deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and care. When their care is covered by one of the state’s Medicaid funded DD Waiver Programs, everyone is accountable, and we must ensure their health and safety needs are met.”
Changes to DD administration
1. Increased staff and training for in-person inspections.
2. Mandatory health and safety inspections every 90 days.
3. Mandatory referrals to law enforcement for any substantiated case of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
4. Raising public awareness for reporting potential abuse and neglect.
5. New civil and criminal penalties for companies and providers.
Warning Signs outlined by Special Needs Alliance:
- Changes in behavior, such as disliking places or activities that were fine before.
- Emotional changes, especially seeming more anxious, sad or withdrawn.
- Unexplained injuries or major health changes like losing a lot of weight.
- Unexpected medication changes or over medication.
- Increased isolation from others.
- Poor personal or home hygiene, like unwashed hair, dirty clothing or uncleaned home or laundry.
- Unpaid bills or unexplained new credit cards or accounts.
- Lack of appropriate medical care or treatment.
- Sudden over-reliance on a caregiver who has no prior relationship to the individual
What can people do to report abuse or neglect?
- Contact local police or law enforcement.
- Call the State’s Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Hotline at 1-800-445-6242, or file a report online.
- Make a report with the caregiver agency, group home or long-term care facility or other organization that helps oversee your loved one’s care.
- Contact Disability Rights New Mexico.
- Connect your loved one with a social or case worker or other community agencies that support people with disabilities or abuse and neglect survivors.