A nurse has been arrested and charged with sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult in connection with the horrifying case of a woman with limited mobility and mental capacity unexpectedly giving birth in December at a Phoenix, Ariz., specialized care center.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, was court ordered to provide DNA for the investigation on Tuesday. That same day, “crime lab technicians determined his DNA ‘matched the baby,’” Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said, per CNN. Sutherland was responsible for aspects of the woman’s care at Hacienda Healthcare, and police believe he assaulted her during that time.
According to the Washington Post, the woman had been at the facility since 1992, at which point she was 3, for what the family’s attorney described to CNN as “significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood,” correcting initial reports that she was in a coma or vegetative state. She was unable to give consent at any point, and it is currently unclear whether Sutherland assaulted her more than once or if he assaulted anyone else at the health care center.
According to the Associated Press, Sutherland “declined to speak with police and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights” and is being held on a $500,000 cash-only bond after a Wednesday court appearance.
From the AP:
Defense attorney David Gregan had asked for a lower bond on the grounds that Sutherland didn’t have a criminal record. He described his client as a family man with young children who has lived in Arizona since 1993.
“There’s no direct evidence that Mr. Sutherland has committed these acts,” Gregan said. “I know at this point there’s DNA. But he will have a right to his own DNA expert.”
Those acquainted with Sutherland have expressed shock and alarm at the case.
“He was very loving, very compassionate. Or he pretended to be. And I really trusted him,” Angela Gomez, whose son Sutherland cared for, told KPHO-TV. “Never in my wildest dreams would I think that he would be the suspect that the PD was looking for. I suspected others, but I was wrong, and he fooled everybody.”
According to the AP, “one doctor who had cared for the woman resigned and another had been suspended.” Hacienda Healthcare released a statement on the ongoing situation, reading, in part:
Nathan Sutherland, who held a current state of Arizona practical nurse’s license and who had undergone an extensive background check upon hiring—was terminated from Hacienda the moment our leadership team learned of his arrest. As we have since the first minutes of this police investigation, the Hacienda team will continue to cooperate with investigators from multiple agencies in every way possible….
In the past two weeks, the Hacienda team has increased security measures to ensure the safety of all our patients. We will continue to do so. We also will continue to review and improve what is already an in-depth vetting process for caregivers at Hacienda. We will not tolerate any mistreatment of a Hacienda patient, nor will we stop until every Hacienda patient is as safe as we can make them.
Sutherland’s next court date is set for Jan. 30.