A licensed practical nurse who was supposed to care for a woman in a vegetative state at a long-term Arizona nursing facility was arrested and charged with raping her after she gave birth to a baby last month, officials announced Wednesday.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said at a news conference that 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland was arrested and will be charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse for the incident at the Hacienda Healthcare facility in Phoenix.
"We have worked virtually nonstop every day, every night to resolve this case," Williams told reporters, adding that the crime was "beyond reproach."
Sutherland invoked his Fifth Amendment rights after his arrest and did not give an interview to authorities regarding the case, according to police.
The chief said that officers used "good old-fashioned police work" in addition to DNA tests on the baby to find a match and made the arrest. Sutherland had worked at the facility since 2011, officials added.
"We owed this arrest for the victim, we owed this arrest for the newest member of our community, that innocent baby," Williams said.
The 29-year-old victim has been in long-term care since the age of 3 and gave birth to a boy at the facility on Dec. 29. Employees at the time said they had no idea she was pregnant. Court records said her last known physical was in April. As her guardian, the woman's mother was required to submit an annual report to the court that included results of a medical exam.
"We may not know how many times this occurred," Phoenix police spokesman Tommy Thompson told reporters. Investigators had obtained a court order to collect DNA from Sutherland, which was compared to DNA from the baby boy.
Thompson added that when the assault took place, Sutherland was responsible for the woman.
"This was an employee, rather than a stranger who made his way into the facility," he said.
The baby boy is "doing well," according to Thompson, who added that it's the community's job to protect the child.
"We can't choose how we come into this world," he told reporters.
Sutherland appeared in court Wednesday afternoon and did not enter a plea. A Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner ordered him released on a cash-only $500,000 bond. Sutherland must also wear an electronic monitoring device and is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 30
Clad in a T-shirt, athletic pants and jacket, Sutherland was accompanied by defense attorney David Gregan, who said his client has no prior criminal record. Gregan also said Sutherland has the right to get his own DNA expert.
The woman's parents on Tuesday through their attorney disputed characterizations that their daughter is comatose, according to the Associated Press. They described her as being 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.
Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams said that officers spent "endless hours" investigating the "hideous crime"
"I know our officers took this crime to heart," she said. "This is a facility you should be safe in, and someone wasn't."
In a statement to Fox 10, Hacienda Healthcare said that every member of the organization was "troubled beyond words."
"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 organization said in a statement.
"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," the statement continued. "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."
Hacienda Healthcare said that in the past two weeks, security measures have been increased to ensure patient safety.
"We will continue to do so," the organization told Fox 10. "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 arrest comes a day after officials disclosed that two doctors at Hacienda HealthCare in Arizona are no longer at the facility.
"The two physicians who were responsible for the care of the sexual assault victim are no longer providing medical services to Hacienda patients. One has resigned. The other one has been suspended,” a spokesperson for the facility told Fox News. Neither doctor has been identified.
The latest development also comes after the facility's CEO, Bill Timmons, resigned earlier in January following the incident.
The facility received a “below average” health-inspection rating in 2017, according to the Medicare website.
Fox News' Madeline Farber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.