Three arrested in case of ‘torture,’ death that spurred state probe of disabilities program

May 18—New Mexico authorities arrested three women Wednesday in connection with the death of a 38-year-old disabled woman who had been in the care of a state-run program for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — a case that drew the ire and attention of the highest rungs of state government.

“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,” Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a statement to The New Mexican.

“This was torture. There’s really no other word for it,” he said.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office charged the unidentified woman’s caregiver, Angelita Rene Chacon, 52, of Rio Rancho with five counts, including abuse or neglect of a resident resulting in death, a second-degree felony.

Chacon’s girlfriend, Patricia Hurtado, 42, also of Rio Rancho, was charged with four counts, including neglect of a resident.

Luz Scott of Clovis was charged with two counts, including false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, both fourth-degree felonies. An arrest warrant affidavit identifies Scott as a “friend/acquaintance” of Chacon’s.

The 27-page affidavit, filed by the Attorney General’s Office in Sandoval County Magistrate Court, offers gruesome details about the case, which prompted the state to launch internal investigations; reexamine old incidents of suspected abuse and neglect, including three in which a client died; and launch unannounced health and safety checks on the thousands of people enrolled in New Mexico’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver program.

Special agents with the Attorney General’s Office arrested the three women Wednesday with the assistance of New Mexico State Police and the Rio Rancho Police Department.

The affidavit provides details about the case — for the first time — and includes graphic photos of the woman’s injuries. State officials have been tight-lipped about the incident, even refusing to say whether the woman was dead or alive.

The woman died at 3:09 a.m. April 7 after being removed from life support, according to the affidavit.

She first came to the attention of police after a stop at the U.S./Mexico border.

On Feb. 27, Mexican authorities stopped a white passenger van at the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry in El Paso after the driver changed lanes in what appeared to be an attempt to avoid inspection, the affidavit states.

Mexican authorities found marijuana in the van and advised U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers the van would be returned to the U.S. for inspection.

After directing the driver, later identified as Hurtado, to an inspection area, Chacon claimed her “adoptive” daughter was in the back seat of the van and she was trying to go into Mexico to take her to a hospital, the affidavit states. She also told officers a hospital in Albuquerque, where they were traveling from, could not care for the woman’s “wounds,” the affidavit states.

During a search of the van, officers discovered the woman, identified in court documents only as “M.M.,” wasn’t in the back seat as Chacon claimed but lying on the floorboard behind the farthest rear passenger seat of the van, which is registered to Scott.

“She was lying on a piece of foam wrapped with a blanket,” the affidavit states. “M.M. had dirty bandages covering open wounds on her arms and legs, and the injuries appeared infected.”

Officers determined the woman needed immediate medical attention.

“She was found to have labored breathing and stitches on both lips,” the affidavit states. “She was described as if she wanted to speak; however, only ‘tears fell from her eyes.’ “

An officer on the scene noted neither Chacon nor Hurtado “demonstrated any urgency,” despite the woman’s poor health.

“Instead, both were merely eager to leave,” the affidavit states.

After the woman was transported to an El Paso hospital and intubated, she went into cardiac arrest.

“Medical staff assessed that the cardiac arrest was caused by septic shock due to infection, likely caused by her multiple infected wounds,” the affidavit states. “CPR and life-saving medical procedures were successfully performed on M.M., regaining her heart rhythm.”

Medical staff documented multiple wounds all over the woman’s body.

“The wounds all progressed in different stages, which, according to the hospital staff, suggested that M.M. was a victim of chronic abuse,” the affidavit states. “In addition, medical staff determined that approximately half of the wounds were ulcers likely formed from bed sores, indicating she was bedbound.”

Attending doctors told authorities half of the wounds could not have come from bed sores.

“These wounds included two deep ulcers on the side of M.M.’s lower left leg, a deep laceration to her right pinky, abrasions on both of her breasts, bruising to her groin, bruising running across her abdomen, which resembled the shape of an outline of some bind (restraint), a tear to her anus, abrasion to her lips and nose, and bruising to her face,” the affidavit states. “An unidentified doctor who initially saw M.M.’s … sutures on her lips assessed they were ‘poorly done.’ “

Chacon later told authorities the sutures on the woman’s lips were sewn by a friend, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

A sexual assault nurse examination, to collect evidence commonly referred to as a rape kit, was performed on the woman March 5 due to her “traumatic injuries,” the affidavit states. It revealed the woman had several lacerations between her vagina and anus, as well as lacerations in her anus.

According to the affidavit, Chacon and Hurtado sought medical care for the woman outside New Mexico “to thwart social services involvement due to the multitude of injuries at different stages of healing to her body.”

Scott played a role at “Chacon’s suggestion,” the affidavit states.

Scott, who works for a home health provider, told police Chacon, whom she’s known for many years, called her Feb. 27 or 28 saying she needed penicillin. After driving from Clovis to Rio Rancho to deliver penicillin, Scott told police she saw the extent of the woman’s wounds.

“Luz Scott referenced that the injuries looked like they went to the bone,” adding the antibiotics wouldn’t do the woman any good, according to the affidavit.

Scott claimed Chacon asked to borrow her van because Chacon’s car was too small to transport the woman.

“Scott stated that she followed her van in Angelita Chacon’s vehicle … to Mexico,” the affidavit states.

Electronic license plate readers recorded Chacon’s vehicle crossing “the same route into Juarez” the same night Chacon and Hurtado were stopped at the border.

“It is believed that Luz Scott was the driver,” the affidavit states.

Authorities from multiple law enforcement agencies have interviewed Chacon, who “has demonstrated untruthfulness on numerous occasions,” the affidavit states.

During a March 10 interview with FBI agents, Chacon, who is also the caregiver for her 29-year-old special needs son, called the woman who had been in her care “so smart” but also described her as sneaky, conniving and antagonistic.

“Angelita Chacon began to cry, stating that M.M. ‘broke’ her. Finally, she stated that she ‘couldn’t take it anymore,’ ” the affidavit states.

Chacon recalled a recent incident in which she accused the woman of throwing a portable stereo at her, striking and cutting her hand. She claimed she threw the stereo back at the woman, causing the lip injury. Chacon told agents a friend stitched her hand, as well as the woman’s lips.

Chacon recalled another incident in which, she said, the woman, “described as over 300 pounds,” threatened to break a window with a garden hose, the affidavit states.

“Chacon said she had to hit M.M. ‘dead center,’ ” the affidavit states. “Chacon explained … ‘you have to go low on M.M. dead center to move her.’ “

Chacon complained she wasn’t receiving the support she needed from At Home Advocacy LLC, which the affidavit describes as a privately run business that managed and supervised the woman’s placement in Chacon’s home.

“I will be accountable for my part in failing her,” Chacon told the FBI agents, adding At Home Advocacy needs to be held accountable, too.

In a statement, the company wrote “all instances of neglect and abuse must be addressed” head on.

“Today’s news is an important step in doing just that,” the company wrote, apparently in reference to the arrests. “We intend to continue cooperating with investigators, as we have all along.”

A review of the disabled woman’s Medicaid claims data revealed the company received “Medicaid program dollars for her placement and care” from Feb. 1, 2020, until this year.

“During that timeframe, [At Home Advocacy] received $236,225.29 in Medicaid program dollars for M.M.,” the affidavit states.

The company is also responsible for the care and placement of Chacon’s special needs son, the affidavit states. Since Feb. 1, 2018, the company has collected more than $400,000 in Medicaid money for his care.

Since the allegations of abuse and neglect of the disabled woman came to light, the Office of the Inspector General of the state Human Services Department has launched 13 provider audits. Calling the audits law enforcement records tied to a potential criminal investigation, the department this week denied a public records request for documents pertaining to the audits.

A supervisor with At Home Advocacy told FBI agents the company first contracted with Chacon “to provide family living services” for her son in 2014. The company contracted with Chacon for the care of the disabled woman in 2021, the affidavit states.

“According to [the company’s] knowledge, M.M. could walk independently and was verbal. She was also able to shower and make simple meals by herself,” the affidavit states.

The company conducted monthly wellness visits at Chacon’s home, according to the supervisor, who told agents the last check was completed Jan. 25.

“She asserted that ‘body checks’ were not conducted during those monthly wellness visits, and there were never injuries observed on M.M.’s person,” according to the affidavit.

The company had scheduled a wellness visit Feb. 27 — the same day Chacon and Hurtado were stopped at the border with the injured and unresponsive woman in the back of the van.

“However,” the affidavit states, “Angelita Chacon called asking to reschedule.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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