Judge Tosses Indictments Over Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak at Massachusetts Veterans' Home

By Nate Raymond

November 23, 2021

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge on Monday dismissed indictments against two former leaders of a veterans home who were charged with criminal neglect for their roles in handling a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 people.

The criminal case against former Holyoke Soldiers' Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director David Clinton was believed to be the first to be filed nationally tied to an outbreak at a U.S. nursing facility during the pandemic.

The case against the two men stemmed from a March 2020 decision to consolidate two dementia units, which Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said put COVID-19 positive residents within feet of ones without symptoms.

Both men were charged with five counts of "wantonly or recklessly" committing or permitting bodily injury, and five counts for abuse, neglect or mistreatment of an elderly or disabled person.

Those charges concerned five specific veterans whom Justice Edward McDonough in Hampden County Superior Court said had already been exposed to COVID-19 before the dementia units were merged.

"There was insufficient reasonably trustworthy evidence presented to the grand jury that, had these two dementia units not been merged, the medical condition of these five veterans would have been materially different," McDonough wrote.

He said the indictments also needed to be dismissed due to insufficient evidence that Walsh and Clinton fit the definition of "caretakers" under a state law governing the elder neglect charges.

Michael Jennings, a lawyer for Walsh, said the case was not over since the state could appeal. Jillian Fennimore, Healey's spokesperson, said her office was evaluating its legal options.

"We are very disappointed in today's ruling, especially on behalf of the innocent victims and families harmed by the defendants’ actions," she said.