Hacienda nurse arrested in sexual assault of patient who gave birth
PHOENIX — An arrest has been made in the sexual assault investigation involving a Hacienda HealthCare patient who gave birth last month, Phoenix police announced Wednesday.
Chief Jeri Williams said the suspect is 36-year-old Nathan Dorceus Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who was responsible for caring for the victim during the time the alleged sexual assault occurred.
“We owed this arrest to the victim. We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community — that innocent baby,” Williams said.
Sutherland is facing one count of sexual assault and one count of abusing a vulnerable adult.
“The investigation was, and still is, the highest priority of our police department,” Williams said during a press conference.
A Hacienda HealthCare spokesman said in a statement that Sutherland began working there as a licensed practical nurse in 2012 and had been assigned to the intellectually disabled unit at the center’s intermediate care facility since 2014.
He was terminated from his job at the facility after his arrest and worked his last shift on Jan. 20, the statement said.
Before he was hired, he went through background checks that included searches of criminal history, sex offender registries, Child Protective Services registries and checks of his references, the statement said.
Sutherland completed a physical examination and drug screening before employment and was issued a Fingerprint Clearance Card in 2012, according to the statement, which also said his nursing license is “current and in good standing.”
“Every member of the Hacienda organization is troubled beyond words to think that a licensed practical nurse could be capable of seriously harming a patient,” a Hacienda HealthCare statement from earlier in the day read.
Sgt. Tommy Thompson said the arrest of the employee was made Tuesday after police took DNA swabs from Sutherland under a court order.
The results came back a few hours later, showing Sutherland was a match to the baby. He declined to speak with police and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, Thompson said.
Thompson said the investigation is ongoing and police are still determining how many times the 29-year-old victim was allegedly sexually assaulted. She had been in the facility since she was 3.
It was not immediately known what type of care Sutherland provided to the victim, Thompson added.
Thompson told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos that police have not identified any additional suspects or victims.
John Micheaels, the attorney for the victim’s family, said in a statement Wednesday that the family was aware of the arrest but declined to comment further.
The woman gave birth at the Phoenix facility on Dec. 29, prompting a sexual assault investigation at the long-term care center near 16th Street and South Mountain Avenue.
Police initially described the woman as being in a vegetative state, but Micheaels said she has “significant intellectual disabilities” and is not able to speak, but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck, responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures.
Court documents of Sutherland’s arrest described the woman as a “quadriplegic in a non-responsive state of consciousness.”
Investigators found that Sutherland had spent a lot of time with the victim, according to a probable cause statement. Investigators believe Sutherland assaulted the patient sometime between February and April.
Thompson said the baby is doing well and is believed to be out of the hospital.
Sutherland appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday, but did not speak or enter a plea.
Defense attorney David Gregan said Sutherland had no prior criminal history and argued there was no direct evidence that his client committed the alleged sexual assault.
Gregan also said Sutherland has the right to get his own DNA expert.
A Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner ordered him released on a cash-only $500,000 bond. Sutherland must also wear an electronic monitoring device.
He will appear in court next on Jan. 30.
Employees had said the facility did not know the woman was pregnant until she gave birth on Dec. 29.
Police launched the sexual assault investigation that same day because the victim was allegedly in a vegetative state and was not in a position to give consent.
As her guardian, the woman’s mother was required to submit an annual report to the court that included results of a medical exam.
Hacienda HealthCare on Sunday announced that one doctor who had cared for the woman resigned and another was suspended.
The center launched an internal review into the incident led by former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley last week.
Hacienda HealthCare CEO Bill Timmons resigned shortly after the investigation began.
Executive Vice President Gary Orman said in the statement at the time that the facility “will accept nothing less than a full accounting of this absolutely horrifying situation, an unprecedented case that has devastated everyone involved.”
Esella Burr, Sutherland’s former neighbor, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he shared his Phoenix-area house with his wife and four children until he sold the home in October.
Burr said Sutherland would sometimes wave or start a conversation with her and once gave her a ride. He also mentioned that he liked his job as a nurse.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.