Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Credit: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Criminal charges have been dropped against two leaders of a Massachusetts veterans home where 76 residents died during a COVID-19 outbreak. They are believed to have been the first COVID-19 criminal charges filed against nursing home officials in the United States. 

State Judge Edward J. McDonough Jr. issued the dismissal on Monday for former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton, M.D. The two had faced criminal charges of causing or permitting serious bodily injury and neglect of an elder. 

The charges were filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in September.

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

Clinton, who’s now retired, cared deeply for the veterans and felt “tremendous relief” after the charges were dropped, according to his attorney John Lawler. 

“I think Dr. Clinton feels vindicated by the well-reasoned, thoughtful decision by Judge McDonough,” Lawler told local media. “At the same time his heart goes out to the veterans who suffered and died as a result of the COVID crisis.”

The charges stemmed from the decision to merge two dementia care units, combining COVID-19 positive residents with others who were asymptomatic. More than 160 residents and staff members contracted the disease after an initial outbreak in the early months of the pandemic. The Department of Justice at the time also announced plans to investigate the outbreak.

“We are very disappointed in [Monday’s] ruling, especially on behalf of the innocent victims and families harmed by the defendants’ actions,” Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey said in a statement. “We are evaluating our legal options moving forward.”