A licensed nurse who was responsible for providing care to an incapacitated woman at a facility in Arizona has been arrested and charged with rape after the patient gave birth to a baby last month, authorities announced Wednesday.
Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old caretaker and licensed practical nurse at the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, faces one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said at a news conference.
“We owe this arrest to the victim. We owe this arrest to the newest member of our community—that innocent baby,” Williams said.
Sutherland reportedly began working at the long-term care facility in 2011 and was responsible for the victim’s care at the time of her assault. As of Friday, he was still employed at the facility, authorities said, without elaborating.
On December 20, a 29-year-old woman gave birth to a baby boy at the center, where she had been living since she was 3 years old, after nearly drowning and becoming incapacitated, authorities said.
“The baby, I am told is doing good. This is a baby that I would just say we can’t always choose how we come into this world,” Sgt. Tommy Thompson said Wednesday. “What we can do as a community is love this child, and I am told this baby is doing quite well.”
Until the birth, staffers at the facility were not aware that the victim, who remains unidentified but is a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, had been pregnant.
“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” a source familiar with the situation previously told AZ Family, which first reported the incident. “From what I’ve been told she was moaning. And they didn’t know what was wrong with her.”
The parents of the woman released a statement through their attorney on Tuesday clarifying that despite previous reporting, their daughter is “not in a coma.”
“She has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood,” John Micheaels, the family’s lawyer, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck. Their daughter responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures. The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities.”
Police say the incident and the victim’s health condition spurred an investigation into the facility and its employees, and DNA tests were performed on every male employee. Officials took samples from Sutherland on Tuesday, finding a match between the nurse and the baby, authorities said.
Court records indicate that the victim’s last known physical was in April, and police say the investigation is ongoing as they examine whether the assault is a systemic issue.
“We may not know how many times this occurred,” Thompson said.
The facility announced on January 13 that it had hired former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to conduct an “exhaustive” internal review on how the woman became pregnant.
In a press conference Monday, Romley explained the investigation will be looking specifically at the facility’s security and culture “to correct the horrendous facts that led up to the impregnation of this young woman.”
Sutherland’s arrest comes one day after officials disclosed that two doctors, including the woman’s primary care doctor, are no longer employed at the Hacienda HealthCare facility.
Her primary care doctor, Dr. Thanh Nguyen, was suspended by Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System on January 15, while the other doctor, whose identity has not been released, resigned.
“The two physicians who were responsible for the care of the sexual assault victim are no longer providing medical services to Hacienda patients. One has resigned. The other one has been suspended,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Bill Timmons, the CEO of the Arizona facility, also resigned in the wake of the sexual assault investigation.
“Timmons’ resignation was accepted unanimously by the Hacienda Board of Directors,” Gary Orman, executive vice president of the Hacienda Board, said in a statement, adding that the board “will accept nothing less than a full accounting of this absolutely horrifying situation, an unprecedented case that has devastated everyone involved, from the victim and her family to Hacienda staff at every level of our organization.”
Sutherland is currently being held on a $500,000 cash only bond at the Maricopa County jail, police said.