A nurse has been arrested on a charge of sexual assault in the impregnation of an incapacitated woman who gave birth last month at a long-term health care facility, police said Wednesday.
Investigators arrested 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.
Williams said Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, worked at the Hacienda HealthCare facility where the woman lived and had been providing care to her.
Hacienda HealthCare said in a statement Wednesday that Sutherland had undergone “an extensive background check” when he was hired. It said he was fired as soon as its leadership team learned he was arrested.
“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 said.
The 29-year-old victim has been incapacitated since the age of 3 and gave birth to a boy at the facility on December 29. Employees said they had no idea she was pregnant. Court records said her last known physical was in April.
Hacienda Healthcare said it has boosted security in the last two weeks to ensure patients’ safety.
“We will continue to do so,” it said. “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.”
The case has prompted the departure or discipline of key figures at Hacienda HealthCare, including the CEO. The provider on Sunday announced that one doctor who had cared for the woman resigned and another had been suspended.
Earlier stories had described the patient as being comatose or in a vegetative state. But her parents released a statement on Tuesday disputing that characterization. They described her instead as intellectually disabled because of seizures in early childhood. While she doesn’t speak, she has some mobility in her limbs, head and neck. She also responds to sound and can make facial gestures.
A 29-year-old incapacitated patient at Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix gave birth in December.
Ross D. Franklin/AP
Updated at 1:53 p.m. ET
Police in Phoenix say they have arrested a man suspected of assaulting and impregnating an incapacitated woman who gave birth at a long-term care facility.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, a licensed practical nurse has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, according to officials who made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday.
“[Police] have spent endless hours investigating this hideous crime,” Mayor Thelda Williams told reporters. “This is a facility that you should be safe in, and someone wasn’t.”
The woman, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, had been incapacitated for years when she gave birth to a boy on Dec. 29. According to a nurse at the Hacienda HealthCare facility who called 911 after the birth, employees realized she was pregnant only when she went into labor.
News of the birth launched a police investigation into who impregnated the 29-year-old woman, whose name has not been released. Earlier this month, a Hacienda HealthCare board member called her case an “absolutely horrifying situation,” and the company’s longtime CEO, Bill Timmons, resigned. Two of the woman’s doctors also left the facility, according to a statement from Hacienda — one resigned, the other was suspended.
Earlier this month, the police obtained a search warrant to collect DNA samples from all the male employees of the facility.
Sutherland was detained on Tuesday and underwent a court-ordered DNA test, said Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a public affairs officer with the Phoenix Police Department. The sample matched that of the baby.
Sutherland had worked at the facility since 2011 and was one of the nurses responsible for the woman’s care, police said. Officials noted that while the investigation is ongoing, there is no indication that anyone else was involved in the woman’s assault.
Police said it wasn’t immediately clear whether Sutherland had worked at other care facilities.
State health agencies investigating Hacienda’s skilled nursing facility in Phoenix after the birth had “several significant concerns” and issued a number of corrective active letters. They have ordered the company to hire a third-party manager to temporarily oversee operations at the building.
The Arizona Department of Health Services tells NPR that it required additional safety measures at the Hacienda facility — including increased staff presence during patient interactions — and that those safeguards are ongoing.
Hacienda HealthCare has also hired a former county attorney, Rick Romley, to conduct an independent safety review, as NPR’s Vanessa Romo has reported.
“I will be going in there and looking at the security surrounding the entire facility to make sure that there’s no future harm to any of the other patients,” Romley said a news conference last week announcing his investigation.
Previous reports, citing a statement from the woman’s tribe, said she is in a “vegetative” state. Her family described her condition differently in a statementreleased Tuesday by John Micheaels, their attorney: “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.”
Micheaels didn’t respond to an NPR inquiry on Wednesday about where the woman is currently receiving care, but Thompson said the baby boy is “doing good.”