THE FORMER SUPERINTENDENT and medical director of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home pleaded not guilty Thursday and were released on their own personal recognizance without a series of restrictions sought by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
Assistant Attorney General Kaushal Rana did not seek bail for Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, but he did ask Superior Court Judge Edward McDonough to bar them from having contact with the families of veterans who died at the Soldiers’ Home and with potential witnesses and to not leave the state or take a job at a long-term care facility.
Michael Jennings, an attorney for Walsh, objected to the pretrial conditions. “Nobody feels worse about this, other than the families, than Mr. Walsh does,” said Jennings, who added that his client has not sought any nursing home employment and that the conditions carried an unfair “public perception” that Walsh would harass families and witnesses.
Jennings said he questioned the need for a travel ban. “What difference does it make if he meets a cousin in Minnesota or goes to California to meet with some Marines?” he asked. “He’s anxious to defend himself and respond to these charges. He’s not a runner. He will be here.”
McDonough sided with Jennings, even though he agreed with prosecutors that the conditions would have been standard in any criminal proceeding. If any issues cropped up around the conditions Rana raised, McDonough said, he’d be open to another hearing to assess them.
Walsh and Clinton were indicted in September on 10 criminal neglect charges each, accused of criminal neglect in connection to a COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run home on March 27. Attorney General Maura Healey alleges that the actions of Walsh and Clinton on that day put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges.
A decision–made by former chief nursing officer Vanessa Lauziere and allegedly approved by Walsh—was made to combine 42 residents of two locked dementia units, some with COVID-19 and others without, into a single room capable of only holding 25 people. Along with at least 76 veterans who died at the home during the first three months of the pandemic, over 80 staff were also sickened, including Walsh.
Walsh challenged his firing in court arguing that the Board of Trustees was the only entity with the legal right to fire him. He was successful and later resigned.