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New Mexico prosecutors say three caregivers have been charged with the death of disabled woman, say she was ‘tortured’

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA) -- In a press conference held by New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, prosecutors announced the arrests of Angelica Chacon, 52, Patricia Hurtado, 42, and Luz Scott, 53, who stand charged with the neglect and abuse that resulted in the death of Mary Melero, a 38-year-old woman with developmental disabilities.

Melero, a participant in the state's Developmental Disabilities Waiver (DD Waiver) Program, was found severely malnourished, dehydrated, and bearing marks of physical trauma. Authorities say Meteor was discovered by Customs and Border Patrol agents in El Paso, TX on February 27, 2023 when the defendants were attempting to transport her across the border to Mexico for medical treatment. She later died at University Medical Center on April 7, 2023.

Medical professionals described her condition as deplorable, noting she had been left in her own waste for days, leading to infections and septic shock. In his address, Attorney General Torrez labeled the conditions as "horrific" and akin to "torture."

The defendants were contracted through At Home Advocacy, a provider within the DD Waiver Program. The organization received nearly $250,000 over three years for Melero's care, with Chacon and Hurtado directly earning $5,000 monthly for their caregiving services.

Attorney General Torrez stressed the urgent need for systemic reform to better protect individuals with disabilities. "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," he stated.

The proposed changes to the DD Waiver Program include increased staff and training for in-person inspections, mandatory health and safety inspections every 90 days, mandatory referrals to law enforcement in cases of substantiated abuse, neglect, or exploitation, raising public awareness for reporting potential abuse and neglect, and implementing new civil and criminal penalties for companies and providers.

Chacon, Hurtado, and Scott face numerous charges including false imprisonment, failure to report, and various forms of abuse and neglect resulting in death. The charges carry maximum prison sentences ranging from 3 years for Scott, to 19 and 20.5 years for Chacon and Hurtado.

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