Family sues Santa Fe police in elderly woman’s freezing death

The family of a 92-year-old woman who froze to death in a space between a pickup and a boarded-up ristra stand on the corner of West Alameda and Las Crucitas streets last March has filed a lawsuit claiming Santa Fe police did not try hard enough to find her the night she died.

A lawyer for Antonia Garcia’s family said Thursday the mother of six grown children lived in the nearby Villa Alegre Apartments, and her family believes she may have gotten lost while on her way to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, where she regularly attended Mass.

The wrongful death complaint filed in state District Court says a neighbor, Angela Chavez, called police around 11:25 p.m. March 19 to say that when she was leaving her home around 10:45 p.m. she saw an elderly woman leaning against a metal post on West Alameda. But after Chavez turned her car around to talk to the woman, she couldn’t find her.

Chavez told police that when she got home, a while later another neighbor called and told her an elderly woman had been knocking on doors in the apartment complex and asking for directions. Chavez told police the neighbor was concerned the elderly woman was in danger, according to the complaint.

“Ms. Chavez explained to the dispatcher and/or call taker that the elderly woman appeared ‘lost,’ ‘disoriented,’ and ‘confused,’ ” according to the lawsuit. “Ms. Chavez also noted concern that there was a path nearby next to a deep arroyo that was very dark.”

The information Chavez provided the dispatcher should have alerted the Santa Fe Police Department that the woman was a “missing person” or an “endangered person,” the lawsuit says, but instead the dispatcher and police officers treated the call as a welfare check, “a low priority call requiring only one officer be dispatched to investigate.”

An officer was dispatched to search for the elderly woman Chavez had reported seeing, according to the lawsuit, but he only looked for her for seven minutes — between 11:30 p.m. and 11:37 p.m. — before abandoning the search.

The temperature fell to 23 degrees that night, the lawsuit says, and Garcia’s body was found the next morning “stiff and cold in the fetal position” by an employee of the ristra stand, which was less than a quarter mile from Garcia’s home.

Garcia died of of hypothermia and exposure, according to the lawsuit, which accuses the city of failing to adequately and diligently search for her, failing to enlist help in searching for her, failing to interview area witnesses in their search for her and failing to issue a “silver alert” or “be on the lookout” message concerning her.

The lawsuit, which names the city, the police department, two dispatchers and a police officer as defendants, seeks unspecified damages and legal fees.

A city spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending litigation. The Santa Fe Police Department did not respond to an email and phone message seeking comment.

Read more via The Santa Fe New Mexican

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