DNA evidence suggests that 36-year-old nurse Nathan Sutherland sexually assaulted a woman in a vegetative state
Phoenix Police have announced that they’ve made an arrest in the Hacienda HealthCare case, in which a woman who had been in an incapacitated state for over 25 years gave birth in December. DNA evidence that matches the baby has been linked to 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland, a licensed nurse who cared for the woman.
Sutherland is being booked on preliminary charges of sexual assault and vulnerable-adult abuse. Police say there’s no indication that anyone else was involved in the crime.
Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said that Sutherland, along with other males in the facility, was ordered by the court to provide a DNA sample yesterday, and that today the crime lab determined it “matched the baby.” He has worked at the facility since 2011.
The name of the 29-year-old woman, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, has not been revealed, but records have been released that she’s been diagnosed with quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia, and a seizure disorder – and that she’s been in the medical facility since she was 2 or 3 years old. CBS News reported that the woman was injured in a near-drowning.
The parents say that they’re “outraged, traumatized and in shock.”
While the woman is not in a coma or unconscious, she is unable to communicate – and unable to fend off unwanted contact. It’s abundantly clear that she could neither consent to sexual contact or stop it.
The horrifying incident has thrown Hacienda HealthCare into turmoil. Their long-time CEO resigned over it, along with one of the woman’s doctors. The woman’s other doctor has been placed on suspension.
No one at the hospital knew that the woman was pregnant until she went into labor – she had not had a medical examination in eight months, and a nurse told CBS that they only realized she was pregnant and having contractions when she began moaning. The nurse called 911.
Due to her state, the birth was difficult and both mother and baby had to be hospitalized. However, Thompson reported that the baby boy is “doing quite well.”
Hacienda HealthCare apologized profusely for the incident, explaining that Sutherland was a licensed, experienced nurse who passed an extensive background check when he was hired.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to ensure justice in this case.”
“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.”
Currently, the facility has a new policy in which male attendants can’t enter a female patient’s room unaccompanied.
According to CNN, Sutherland has “invoked his 5th Amendment rights” and hasn’t talked to police about the crime.