She was a young nurse taking on one of Boston’s most powerful developers. Audrey Kenney charged that Arthur Winn, then 78, tried to strangle her as she cared for him in his Brookline mansion in 2017 — because he wanted Valium instead of the respirator she offered, she said.
When Kenney went to the police, Winn, in turn, complained about Kenney’s care to the state nursing board, a move that threatened to derail her young career.
The assault charges against Winn are proceeding in Norfolk County. But in Suffolk County, District Attorney Rachael Rollins quietly dropped a charge of intimidating a witness against Winn for his nursing board complaint. Rollins’s move, made without even interviewing Kenney, infuriated her lawyers, who said it flies in the face of Rollins’s public posture of standing up for victims and railing against people of privilege who get special treatment.
Winn was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of attempting to intimidate Kenney on May 1. But Rollins’s office decided to drop the case against Winn late in the afternoon on April 18, without even talking to Kenney first.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office, in a court filing, said pursuing the intimidation case would have a “chilling effect” on a citizen’s right to complain to the nursing board or other oversight agencies.
Kenney’s attorney, John Flanagan, said the prosecutor’s actions benefited one person only, Winn, whose legal team includes Rollins’s predecessor as district attorney, Daniel F. Conley.
“A chilling effect on Arthur Winn’s ability to file a complaint?” replied Flanagan. “Who is the DA’s office representing — the Commonwealth and the victim, or is it representing Arthur Winn?”
Rollins’s spokeswoman declined requests for an interview about her decision to drop the intimidation charge, citing in an e-mail Rollins’s “packed” schedule. Instead, she issued a statement:
“In every case, our decision making process is governed by the fundamental principle of fair and just prosecution. We consistently pursue that principle in a manner that is governed by the facts and law in each case.”
Conley, who started representing Winn earlier this year, said he didn’t discuss the case with Rollins, but her decision was the right one.
“Making a complaint of substandard care to the board of nursing is not a crime and has never been a crime,” said Conley, who served as district attorney from 2002 to 2018 before joining the law firm, Mintz Levin. The district attorney’s office, he added, is “dutybound not to bring a charge which they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Flanagan, however, said prosecutors should not have dropped the case before at least talking to Kenney. He said Kenney was still traumatized by her encounter with Winn and she was “hurt, upset, and confused” by Rollins’s decision to end the intimidation case before it began.
Rollins stirred controversy almost from the moment she took office in January, pledging not to prosecute crimes she considered minor, such as drug possession and resisting arrest. But crimes in which there were victims were not among them. “I believe in getting justice for victims,” she said when she was sworn in.
Rollins has also railed against people of privilege getting special treatment in the justice system, including Governor Charlie Baker’s son, who was not prosecuted after a woman accused him of groping her on a June 2018 flight from Washington, D.C., to Boston.
“Candidly, you know, not everyone gets the benefit of the Baker family when they have interacted with the criminal justice system; they don’t get to not get arrested,” Rollins said at an April 5 news conference.
“Most moms that are living in Suffolk County don’t have a one-thousand-dollar lawyer to handle a charge when it’s brought against their son or daughter or loved one,” she added.
Winn is the founder of WinnCompanies, the nation’s largest manager of affordable housing, with 100,000 units under management in 22 states and Washington, D.C. Locally, Winn is known for huge projects such as the renovation of the 500-unit Castle Square apartments in the South End and the redevelopment of the Mission Main public housing complex in Roxbury.
While retired and fighting cancer and dealing with other health issues, Winn remains a respected figure in the Boston business and philanthropic communities. Last month, Winn was honored at the Jewish Community Center Greater Boston’s annual winter fund-raising event attended by Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.
Kenney said Winn assaulted her inside his home, grabbing her by the neck just after midnight on Oct. 6, 2017. He was angry about having to wear a ventilator and because she refused to give him a Valium, according to police reports.
Kenney, a 2016 magna cum laude graduate of Curry College, immediately called Winn’s nursing supervisor, who instructed her to lock herself in another room. The next day, on the advice of her nursing agency, she went to the Brookline police.
Winn attempted to bring countercharges, charging Kenney with elder abuse, assault and battery on a person over 65, and extortion, but a clerk-magistrate declined to issue the complaint.
Winn’s previous attorneys also filed the complaint with the nursing board, which alleged that Kenney withheld medication and tried to force the ventilator mask on him, and was not filed to intimidate her. Winn’s complaint also said she tried to extort $3 million from him.
In a written court statement, Kenney described how the incident threatened her dream of following her mother into nursing.
“I did everything in my power to keep him safe,” she wrote. “Mr. Winn did not give me the same respect . . . I became a target.”
She said that she “spent countless nights lying in bed wide awake, my mind racing about the potential of what was to come. Would I have to start over?”
Kenney’s was not the first complaint lodged by one of Winn’s nurses. Another nurse alleged a few months earlier that Winn took a steak knife from a drawer and held it to her neck. As she struggled to escape she was cut in the neck, chin, hands, and wrist and was crying and shaking uncontrollably when paramedics arrived, according to a police report.
That case was dismissed after she agreed to accept a financial settlement that included a nondisclosure agreement, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Kenney filed the intimidation charge against Winn last October shortly after he complained about her care to the nursing board. A month later, a Suffolk County clerk-magistrate found probable cause that Winn had attempted to silence Kenney and he allowed the case to go forward to arraignment.
But Winn’s arraignment kept being postponed — at the request of Winn’s lawyers, court records show. When Winn’s arraignment was scheduled for May 1, Kenney hoped she would finally get to tell her story in court.
But then the case was quietly dropped.
The nursing board dismissed Winn’s complaint against Kenney last July — a complaint that the lawyer who represented Kenney before the board called a “blatant and flagrant abuse” by a powerful person.
“A complaint against her by somebody who is a very connected, powerful individual . . . talk about an imbalance of power,” said attorney Scott Liebert. “I was really upset and quite indignant on her behalf.”
Rollins declined to respond to specifics, but her statement said that dropping the intimidation charge was “the most procedurally efficient path,” leaving the strangulation case to go forward in neighboring Norfolk County.
Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said that case would be dismissed only if the parties, including Kenney, agreed.
Victims “have a lot of weight — at least in Norfolk County,” Morrissey said. “We’re entering a period where defendants are considered victims and the victims are becoming invisible. That’s not the kind of system I support.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.