News Article Details

Mother Of Autistic Teen, Matthew Tirado, Who Died After Being Denied Food Gets 11 Years In Prison

Hartford Courant - 6/5/2018

June 05--Katiria Tirado, the Hartford woman whose 17-year-old autistic son Matthew died weighing 84 pounds with signs of long-term abuse on his gaunt frame, was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison, bringing to an end a case that put a critical focus on the Department of Children and Families perceived lack of intervention.

Tirado was sentenced to 17 years, suspended after 11 years served with 5 years probation.

In handing down the sentence, Superior Court Judge Laura F. Baldini said, "In the present case, Ms. Tirado failed to provide her son with the basics necessary for life."

Tirado, 34, of Hartford pleaded guilty under the Alford doctrine to manslaughter following the February 2017 death of Matthew Tirado, which sparked a months-long investigation by the Office of Child Advocate that resulted in a blistering report about systemic shortcomings.

Although Katiria Tirado was on the state's child-abuse registry and Matthew had not been to school for months, DCF closed their case with the Tirados in January 2017 -- one month before the teen died at Hartford Hospital weighing just 84 pounds with signs of prolonged abuse, Child Advocate Sarah Eagan reported. He had not been seen by caseworkers once in a nine-month period.

Issues about Matthew's life were buried in DCF records and the last DCF social worker to handle the case was unaware of fundamental information that would have provided a clearer picture of the danger level, such as the depth of Matthew's helplessness, according to Eagan's lengthy report on his death released in December. The teen was autistic and did not talk.

Eagan reported that Matthew's sister had told DCF social workers that Matthew was being hit at home, and the investigation revealed Matthew had been to school little in the five years leading up to his death.

"Matthew's vulnerability to harm was missed here," Eagan told The Courant in an interview when the report was released.

When discussing the case Tuesday, Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy said it was one of the worst in her 23-year career as a prosecutor.

"It's probably beyond comprehension that a mother could do this to her child," Hardy said. No sentence, she said, is long enough when in the death of a child and "this is definitely the case" with Tirado.

Baldini acknowledged both Matthew's disabilities and Katiria Tirado's own challenges, including a lack of education, a diagnosis of her own limited cognitive abilities, and untreated mental health issues "created the perfect storm for Matthew's death."

"This case highlights the need for communication between local and state agencies," the judge said, acknowledging a sweeping review conducted after Matthew's death.

Hardy also referenced the review by Eagan of state departments. "It was obviously too late for Matthew Tirado. Hopefully it will be a review that can help save another child."

In statements to the court, Tirado's attorney, William O'Connor, acknowledged the challenges his client faced raising an autistic child. She grew up in a home of neglect and abuse and faced mental health issues stemming from the 2016 death of her mother, he said.

An evaluation by an expert concluded that Tirado "did not have the psychological or cognitive ability to care for the child" following her mother's death.

Tirado declined to address the court. O'Connor said: "She is very remorseful. She does grieve, not only the death of Matthew, but also her mother and the loss of her daughter."

Tirado's father told the court Tuesday the death left a profound effect on his life. "After I heard the autopsy, I did not eat. I starved myself for months to see what it feels to be my son," said Pedro Gomez, Matthew's father.

Gomez said he had not seen the boy in years and was kept away by Tirado. O'Connor said Gomez had rights and chose to be absent from Matthew's life, rather than exercise those rights.

O'Connor told the court that Gomez was 40 years old when he impregnated a then 15-year-old Katiria Tirado, saying she was the victim of a sexual predator and was not ready to raise a son that young.

Tirado had received help from her mother raising the boy until her mother's death. Before his death, family and friends said she often kept Matthew from people, which the DCF asserts included their own workers.

Following the child advocate report's release, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz defended the decision by her department to close the case and acknowledged DCF's system for records, LINK, was obsolete and needed to be changed so social workers could get better access to critical information.

As the DCF case drew to a close, Matthew Tirado was starving in his mother's Park Street apartment, digging through trash for food, and drinking oils and condiments whenever possible, Eagan reported.

Hartford detectives found photographs on Katiria Tirado's phone showing that she had screwed cabinets shut and locked the refrigerator. They reported that she controlled whatever food the boy could eat.

They also found text messages Tirado sent in which she acknowledges she was starving the boy. In one message to her sister, she wrote: "See how I gotta have my fridge."

She then said: "but he can't get in it any longer because you need a screw driver."

In December 2016, weeks before Matthew died, police found that Tirado had searched the internet for "autism underweight," "autism and weight loss" and "what is it like to have anorexia and autism."

Detectives wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit that she never made efforts to seek medical help for Matthew despite his continued weight loss.

It was not until the early morning hours of Feb.14, 2017 that Tirado finally brought Matthew to the hospital, the affidavit read. In text messages to her sister on Feb. 13, 2016, Tirado said Matthew had been vomiting for several days and it was a blood-like color.

"Cuz of the way he looks they gonna get DCF involved and [expletive] gonna escalate," she wrote her sister, according to the affidavit.

At 2:17 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2017, she sent a message saying that Matthew "looks like he is dying," the affidavit read. Detectives said she did not call 911 for another 36 minutes.

When she called 911, she speculated Matthew had gallstones, noting he had been vomiting and was not urinating.

He died at Hartford Hospital that morning. A state medical examiner concluded Matthew died from fatal child abuse syndrome given the evidence of long-term abuse including scarring, both old and new cuts and injuries in varying states of healing, the police reported. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

When he died, Matthew had been the subject of half-dozen court hearings, a sheaf of abuse and neglect reports, and hours of discussion among school, court, and child-protection officials, Eagan's report outlined. Hartford schools alone had filed five neglect reports in an 18-month period.

Katz said DCF had no knowledge of the abuse Matthew was suffering before his death. "Nobody had any clue -- I don't care what anyone says -- we did not know this child was being physically abused or starved to death," Katz said.

Since Matthew's death, DCF has contended that Katiria Tirado repeatedly refused the department's help and barred anyone from seeing her son.

The department has no authority under state law to interview a child or enter a child's home without parental permission, Katz said, unless there is evidence of serious harm or sexual assault. She said the department has pushed the legislature for two decades to get more authority with no success.

"Nothing diminishes the heartbreaking nature of what happened to Matthew; the level of abuse inflicted by the mother and intentional denial of food are egregious and incomprehensible," Katz wrote in a statement following Eagan's report.

"In this particular instance, the mother repeatedly denied child welfare, school, and law enforcement officials, among others, access to Matthew," Katz wrote. "Lacking the authority to force the mother to cooperate and allow access to Matthew, none of these entities had evidence of the abuse that she inflicted on him. With that said, despite the limitations on what actions the department can take in light of parental resistance, the department has taken steps to improve the work of our agency."

Courant Staff Writer Josh Kovner contributed to this story.

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(c)2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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