Three individuals arrested and charged for neglect resulting in death of a woman with autism
On Thursday, Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced that three individuals -Angelica Chacon, Patricia Hurtado and Luz Scott - have been arrested and charged with the abuse and neglect of a 38-year-old woman with developmental disabilities.
The victim, Mary Melero, was discovered by Customs and Border Patrol agents in the rear seat of a white passenger van on February 27, 2023 when defendants attempted to take her to Mexico to receive medical treatment. Severely dehydrated and drugged, Melero had numerous open wounds, including chronic bedsores with exposed bone, bruises and lacerations on various parts of her body, and ligature marks consistent with prolonged restraint. Unable to speak when discovered by federal agents, she was transported to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where she died on April 7, 2023.
“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 Torrez. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.”
Injuries to the victim were extensive and described by the University Medical Center as “chronic wounds.” The filed arrest warrant indicates that the victim was left in a bathtub in her own feces for days at a time and according to medical professionals had infected pressure sores resulting in septic shock.
Melero was enrolled in the Developmental Disabilities Waiver (DD Waiver) Program
administered by the New Mexico Department of Health. As a participant in that program, DOH contracted with At Home Advocacy (AHA) and three other contractors to provide supplemental care for the victim in this case. Established as an alternative to institutional care, the DD Waiver Program pays providers like AHA to manage in-home care for individuals with disabilities like Melero.
Angelita Chacon and Patricia Hurtado contracted with AHA to provide care for Melero and were receiving approximately $5,000 a month, under the DD Waiver Program, to care for the victim. A preliminary review of the available business records also indicates that AHA received nearly $250,000 to coordinate care and support for Melero in the three years before her death. According to records, the last at-home visit by AHA occurred on January 25, 2023, one month before Melero was intercepted at the port of entry in El Paso.
“We have a moral obligation to speak up for the most vulnerable members of our society and I urge the Governor and the legislature to take immediate action to overhaul the health and safety protocols at the Department of Health to ensure that this never happens again,” Torrez said. “Private contractors can’t be counted on to police themselves. The Department of Health should have enough specially trained inspectors to conduct regular, in-person wellness checks for every individual with disabilities enrolled in the program,” AG Torrez said.
Attorney General Torrez urged a number of essential reforms to the administration of the DD Waiver Program including:
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.