PHOENIX (FOX 10/AP) - A nurse who was looking after an incapacitated woman at Hacienda Healthcare has been charged with raping her, weeks after she stunned her caregivers and family who didn't know she was pregnant by giving birth to a baby boy, Phoenix police said Wednesday.
Investigators arrested 36-year-old Nathan Dorceus Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, on suspicion of one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.
"We owed this arrest to the victim. We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community - that innocent baby," Williams said.
>>Full coverage: Hacienda Healthcare investigation
The surprise birth late last month triggered reviews by state agencies and highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted authorities to test the DNA of all the men who worked at the Hacienda HealthCare facility.
Police spokesman Tommy Thompson said Sutherland was charged after his DNA was found to match the baby's. Sutherland's attorney, however, questions the evidence. The DNA evidence was reportedly obtained via a court order, after police say Sutherland refused to take or give investigators a DNA example.
Sutherland declined to speak with police and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, Thompson said. A message left at a phone number listed for Sutherland was not immediately returned.
The 29-year-old victim has been in long-term care since the age of 3 and gave birth at the facility on Dec. 29. Employees said they had no idea she was pregnant. As her guardian, the woman's mother was required to submit an annual report to the court that included results of a medical exam.
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 characterizations. 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.
The victim has been diagnosed as a quadriplegic in a non-responsive state of consciousness, according to court paperwork.
Hacienda Healthcare released the following statement to FOX 10:
"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. 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.
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.
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. "
According to police, the incapacitated woman got pregnant between February and April of 2018. Court records show Sutherland and his wife had separated in May, and then filed for divorce in December, a few weeks before the baby was born.
Sutherland was booked into jail on charges of sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse.
He made his initial court appearance and is being held on a $500,000 cash only bond.
Karina Cesena, whose child used to be a Hacienda patient, sounded off on Sutherland's arrest.
"He has no conscience," said Cesena. "Obviously he didn't think about the consequences. He didn't think about being caught. That's what predators do."
Cesema recalled seeing Sutherland regularly when she visited her daughter.
"He was very friendly. 'Hi, how 'ya doing?'" sdaid Cesena. "I never suspected anything at all. You never judge a book by his cover."
Sutherland lived in Laveen for years, and moved into a Gilbert apartment a few months ago. Former neighbors say Sutherland appeared to be a family man.
"He seemed like a regular person," said neighbors. "I'd never suspect -- everytime you see him in the garage in front with his kids, keep it cordial."
Meanwhile, the family of the incapacitated woman also made a statement, via a lawyer, saying that the family is aware of the arrest, but do not wish to comment any further on this matter at this time.
Police say the investigation is still ongoing and they encourage anyone with information to contact Phoenix police at 602-262-5141 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.