Saturday January 22, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A Hillcrest Commons employee was arrested Friday for allegedly sexually assaulting a patient at the Pittsfield facility.

Jerald Sullivan, 54, a Vermont native who now lives in Pittsfield, at his arraignment late Friday denied raping the patient, even though prosecutors contend Sullivan admitted to the crime earlier that day.

During bail arguments, attorneys for the prosecution and defense debated whether Sullivan was a flight risk. The primary purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant returns to court, and Sullivan is due back for a Feb. 9 hearing.

Sullivan has worked at Hillcrest for about a year and a half and has local ties to Berkshire County, according to defense attorney John Bernardo.

"He's not a transient," said Bernardo, telling Judge Fredric D. Rutberg that the defendant has no record of failing to make court appearances.

However, Berkshire Assistant District Attorney Robert D. Sullivan Jr., who is not related to the defendant, said Sullivan has a criminal record in Vermont and is facing a rape charge punishable by life imprisonment.

"We feel the defendant has a tremendous incentive to flee the jurisdiction," he said, requesting the judge to set bail at $100,000 cash, $1 million bond.

But Rutberg set bail at $5,000 cash, $50,000 bond, and ordered the defendant to stay away from Hillcrest Commons, a 265-bed skilled nursing facility on Valentine Road.

Hillcrest's clientele ranges from elderly residents to people with chronic medical conditions or disabilities.

As of Friday night, Jerald Sullivan was still being held at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, according to a jail spokesman.

Assistant District Attorney Sullivan said a Hillcrest employee spotted the defendant sexually assaulting a partially undressed female patient Friday morning. The prosecutor said the patient was naked from the waist down, and that Jerald Sullivan later admitted to Hillcrest officials that he had inappropriately touched the woman.

Bernardo said the defendant has worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for about 30 years. Prior to coming to Hillcrest, Bernardo said, Jerald Sullivan had spent a decade working as a CNA for Berkshire Health Systems.

This is not the first time a Hillcrest CNA has come under fire for sexually assaulting a patient.

In May 2010, Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini sentenced 28-year-old Sean Murphy to seven to 10 years in state prison, after the CNA pleaded guilty to one count of raping a 74-year-old Hillcrest patient in July 2008.

"This was a despicable act," Agostini said, adding that he was inclined to exceed the sentence requested by prosecutors.

Two Hillcrest employees discovered a used condom on the floor of the elderly woman's room, and the victim provided a description of an assailant matching Murphy's appearance. Murphy also consented to a DNA sample, which matched evidence gathered at the scene, police said.

Pittsfield Police Detective Diane Caccamo is the lead investigator assigned to Jerald Sullivan's case.

To reach Conor Berry:;

(413) 496-6249.