HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A Hampden Superior Court judge has dismissed the criminal neglect charges against former superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton of the Soldiers’ Home.
According to William M. Bennett of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy, P.C., the charges against Bennett Walsh in relation to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home COVID-19 outbreak have been dismissed. Clinton’s attorney, Jeffrey Pyle of Boston firm Prince Lobel, also confirmed charges were dismissed against his client as well. You can read the Superior Court’s decision here.
The judge cited lack of evidence that their actions amounted to a crime. Walsh was facing five counts each of criminal neglect and five counts each of causing or permitting serious bodily injury to an elder. The charges are based on five veterans who were allegedly moved into dining room when the outbreak began. State Attorney General Maura Healey said they were all asymptomatic when they were moved, and this decision allowed the virus to spread. Of the five, three of them contracted COVID-19, and one died.
Walsh’s Attorney William Bennett maintains that Walsh followed all reporting guidelines and was in constant contact with the state. He told 22News back in July that the decision to move the veterans “had no impact on the spread of the virus.”
Clinton’s attorney Jeffrey Pyle told 22News the judge’s decision was, “crystal clear that it was COVID-19 that caused the tragedy at the Soldiers’ Home.”
“The commonwealth’s experts testified before the grand jury that they could not say that any of five alleged victims in this case contracted COVID-19 because of the decision to consolidate the units. There was no medical way to demonstrate that to be the case,” said Pyle.
Pyle says criminal charges weren’t appropriate in this circumstance because Clinton and Walsh did not fit within the state’s definition of a caretaker since they were hospital administrators and the statutes do not apply to them. He said that the state defines a caretaker as someone who provides primary and substantial assistance for the care of an elder, and that there was no evidence that Clinton was responsible for providing direct primary care to any person.
Veterans’ family members told the 22News I-Team they’re disappointed about this decision. Beth LaPointe’s father lived in the Soldiers’ Home. He survived the outbreak. About a year ago, LaPointe managed to bring her father home. She told the I-Team over text that she expected it to end this way. She said “per usual, no accountability, no ownership for poor decisions and decisions that caused fatalities.”
We’re also hearing from the State attorney generals office. Spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey said, “We are very disappointed in today’s ruling, especially on behalf of the innocent victims and families harmed by the defendants’ actions.” They said they are evaluating their legal options.
Attorney Pyle said that there are civil lawsuits currently pending where he will be representing David Clinton and will not provide comment on those charges at this time.