A male nurse in Arizona has cut a plea deal in the rape of an incapacitated patient under his care who later gave birth to a child. Nathan Sutherland is accused of sexually assaulting the woman three years ago while she resided in a long-term care facility in Phoenix. In addition to the sexual assault charge, the defendant also entered a guilty plea to “abuse of a vulnerable adult.”
Former colleagues at Hacienda Healthcare expressed outrage over what they say is too lenient a sentence for Sutherland.
“This man did a heinous crime and he’s getting a slap on the wrist and it’s not right and everyone I talked to that worked at Hacienda, they’re furious. None of us can believe that’s all he’s going to get is a slap on the wrist,” said Davena Ballard, who was a nurse at a Hacienda-affiliated program, according to KPHO-TV of Phoenix.
The 29-year-old victim has been in a vegetative state for 26 years after suffering a near-drowning incident when she was only three that left her with a brain disorder resulting in motor and cognitive impairments and vision loss. She was also left with no functional use of her limbs.
Sutherland was arrested after police conducted a DNA test showing he was the father of the patient’s baby. The pregnancy was discovered in December 2018 when an employee at Hacienda was changing the garments of the victim and noticed she was in the process of delivering a child. Employees told police they had no idea the woman was pregnant.
According to doctors, a baby can still fully develop inside a woman in a vegetative state. Arizona Family’s Briana Whitney spoke with Dr. Greg Marchard when the case broke. Marchand said it’s a miracle there were no severe complications with the delivery since the patient could not help push the baby out.
An expert on behalf of the victim alleged that many of the encounters occurred overnight when fewer staff are maintained at the facility.
The family of the victim filed a lawsuit in 2020 against her doctors, two medical companies and the state, according to azfamily.com. The suit alleges that Sutherland had cared for their daughter on hundreds of occasions from 2012 through 2018, despite promises from the state that only women would tend to her. The state has contracts with many long-term care providers such as Hacienda that specialize in patients with disabilities.
The startling discovery prompted reviews by state agencies that led to the resignations of Hacienda’s chief executive and one of the victim’s doctors. Additionally, a judge approved a $15 million settlement against another doctor who cared for the woman for her 26 years at the facility. The doctor’s insurer has cynically argued it has no obligation to pay that amount.
The state of Arizona settled with the victim’s family in 2020 for $7.5 million.
Perry Petrilli, CEO of Hacienda Healthcare, released a statement regarding the case:
“After more than 2-1/2 years, all of us at Hacienda Healthcare are relieved that Nathan Sutherland has finally pleaded guilty to his awful offenses. We have cooperated in every way possible with law enforcement and investigators – and now we hope the judge will sentence Sutherland appropriately given the severity of his crimes. As ever, our hearts are with the victim and her family. May these final steps in the legal process help them find peace.”
The victim has summarily been removed from the facility following the child’s birth.
According to Maricopa County Superior Court, the sentencing range for the plea agreement is 5-10 years for the first count, and lifetime probation for the second count.
The sentencing is set for November 4th.
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