Phoenix police have arrested Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old nurse at Hacienda HealthCare facility, alleging he raped and impregnated an incapacitated woman at the center.
The woman gave birth to a boy Dec. 29. Staff members told a 911 operator that they had not known she was pregnant.
“From the minute we first became aware of the crime, we have virtually worked nonstop seven days a week to resolve this case,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in announcing the arrest Wednesday morning.
Williams joined Mayor Thelda Williams at Phoenix police headquarters to provide an “important” update on the investigation into the rape.
Sutherland is a licensed practical nurse who was primarily responsible for caring for the victim at the time of the assault, according to police. He’s worked at Hacienda since 2011. He was booked into Maricopa County Jail on Wednesday, and his attorney said there was “minimum” evidence that his client committed the crime at an initial hearing.
A court commissioner set bail at a half-million dollars. The parents of the patient who gave birth are aware of the arrest. State records show he was first licensed as a clinical nursing assistant in 2005 before he became an LPN.
Hacienda HealthCare officials say Sutherland went through an “extensive background check” when he was hired.
He was terminated “the moment our leadership team learned of his arrest,” says a statement the facility released this morning.
“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,” the statement says, “Once again, we offer an apology and send our deepest sympathies to the client and her family, to the community and to our agency partners at every level.”
Officials with the non-profit health care company say they will “continue to review and improve what is already an in-depth vetting process for caregivers at Hacienda.”
The Phoenix police crime lab on Tuesday determined a DNA sample taken from Sutherland matched the baby. He was taken into custody the same day.
Police announced they would be testing the DNA of all employees during a Jan. 8 media briefing.
Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said police didn’t have the opportunity to collect Sutherland’s DNA through a court order until Tuesday.
Sutherland declined to answer investigators’ questions after he was taken into custody Tuesday, according to Thompson.
Sutherland was booked into jail Wednesday, charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse. Maricopa County Superior Court records show Sutherland has not been charged with any other major crimes.
He appeared in Maricopa County Superior Court alongside Mesa attorney Dave Gregan for an initial appearance shortly before noon. He did not enter a plea.
Gregan asked the judge to set a low bail given the “minimum” evidence, the fact that Sutherland has lived in Arizona since 1993 and that he doesn’t have a criminal history. The defense plans to perform its own DNA test.
“There’s no direct evidence Mr. Sutherland committed these acts,” Gregan said.
But a representative for the state said the nature of the charges merited a higher bail. They pledged to not settle for any resolution less than the mandatory prison sentence. The court commissioner set a $500,000 cash-only bail.
If Sutherland is released, he’ll be placed on house arrest and will have to wear an electronic monitoring device. He won’t be allowed to return to Hacienda or contact the victims as conditions of his release.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 30.
Thompson said they are still working to determine whether Sutherland assaulted other victims inside the 60-bed facility.
Thompson said the baby was full-term and has since been released from the hospital.
“We can’t always choose how we come into this life, but we can choose as a community how we will love this child — and that’s what we need to do,” he said.
According to court records, the woman, who is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, has been a patient at Hacienda for 26 years.
The records say the woman is “not alert” and needs a “maximum level of care.”
In the weeks since the 911 call calling for help after the child’s birth, police and state agencies have launched investigations. The state on Jan. 3 suspended new patient admissions to Hacienda HealthCare.
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