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AG Coffman announces homicide charges against five in deaths of two at-risk adults

Author: Marianne Goodland - December 29, 2017 - Updated: December 29, 2017

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (Photo by Brennan Linsley/The Associated Press)

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced Friday her office would prosecute homicide charges against five people in the deaths of two at-risk adults.

The cases arose out of investigations conducted by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit within the AG’s office.

On November 20, 2014, Buddhi Rai, a man with a seizure disorder and a resident at the Wheat Ridge Regional Center, drowned in a bathtub. Behavioral protocols for Rai mandated that “he should have close visual supervision during bathing for prevention of injury should he have a seizure.” A sign had also been posted on the bathroom door that Rai was not to be left unattended in the bathroom for any reason.

Two staff members who were supposed to monitor Rai while he was in the bathtub allegedly failed to check on him for 10 minutes, and he was found submerged in the bathtub. The coroner listed the cause of death as drowning, possibly the result of a seizure.

Victoria Pletting, 60, of Arvada was arrested on Sept. 27 and charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult. Joanita Serwadda, 52, of Aurora was arrested on Oct. 4 and  charged with criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult. Both were taken into custody by the Jefferson County Sheriff and have since been released.

In the second case, Deidre Lopez, 32, of Denver was arrested on Dec. 27, also by the Jefferson County Sheriff, in connection with the 2016 death of 94-year old Mary Gatewood. Warrants have been issued for two other staff members: Roxanne Ousley. 36, and Jasmine Salgado, 22, also in connection with Gatewood’s death.

Gatewood, a resident at the Ashley Manor Memory Care facility in Wheat Ridge, had advanced dementia and according to company policy was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes.

However, on June 15, 2016, Gatewood wandered out of the facility into the backyard, fell and hit her head on landscaping rock, and wasn’t found until 90 minutes later. The outdoor temperatures that day ranged from 86 to 92 degrees; the coroner’s report said Gatewood died of probably heat stress.

Video surveillance revealed that Gatewood had not been checked on by staff for at least three hours. The three staff members identified in the arrest warrants were responsible for checking on her that day.

Lopez was charged with criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult and attempting to influence a public servant.

Ousley faces charges of criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult and tampering with physical evidence.  The tampering charge is related to Ousley’s alleged admission that she falsified headcount sheets, according to an affidavit obtained by Colorado Politics. Salgado faces charges of criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk adult. Both are still at-large and being sought by law enforcement.

According to statement from Coffman’s office, the attorney general has the authority to “investigate abuse and neglect of patients in federally-funded long-term care facilities and to investigate and prosecute fraud committed against the State by providers of Medicaid products and services.”

The Medicaid Fraud Unit is state and federally funded and its investigators are highly trained, sworn peace officers who specialize in this area.

“What happened to these two victims is heartbreaking and the tragedy of their loss is made worse by the fact that their deaths were preventable,” Coffman said. “My office is dedicated to protecting Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens and I am thankful that we will now be able to pursue justice for Ms. Gatewood and Mr. Rai, and hopefully be able to provide some solace to their loved ones.”

A spokesperson for Coffman’s office said she could not say how long it’s been since the Attorney General’s office handled a homicide case on its own.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.