The attorney for the nurse accused of sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman at an Arizona healthcare facility, where he was responsible for her care, claimed in court there was no proof his client did anything wrong.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, appeared in court Wednesday after being charged with sexual assault and abusing a vulnerable adult. He did not enter a plea.
His arrest came after DNA evidence police collected showed he was the father of the baby born to a 29-year-old woman in his care at Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix. Police said the woman was incapable of consenting to having sex.
But Sutherland’s lawyer David Gregan argued in defense of his client, saying in court, “There’s no direct evidence that Mr. Sutherland has committed these acts. I know at this point there’s DNA. But he will have a right to his own DNA expert.”
Gregan asked for a low bond for his client, saying Sutherland is a family man who has young children and no criminal record, the Associated Press reported. He apparently has lived in Arizona since 1993.
A Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner set a $500,000 cash-only bond for Sutherland. If he does post bond, he will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device, the AP reported.
Sutherland submitted his DNA sample under court order Tuesday, and police said results showed he was a match to the baby boy born in December. Sutherland declined to speak with police and invoked his Fifth-Amendment rights, Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said Wednesday.
Relatives of other patients at Hacienda were shocked to learn of Sutherland’s arrest, saying he appeared to be a kindhearted professional.
“He was very loving, very compassionate,” Angela Gomez, whose son was cared for by Sutherland, told KPHO-TV. “Or he pretended to be. And I really trusted him.”
Sutherland began working at Hacienda in 2011, police said. He is a licensed practical nurse, a position which usually entails caring for people who are sick, injured, convalescent or disabled.
Sutherland holds a current state of Arizona practical nurse's license and underwent an "extensive background check" upon his hiring, Hacienda said. He was terminated from his position at the facility upon his arrest, officials said.
Police are still working to determine how many times the victim was sexually assaulted, Thompson said. There is no indication others at the facility were involved in the alleged assault, but Thompson said the investigation is ongoing. He also noted that should the families or caretakers of other patients bring to their attention concerns of other instances of abuse, they will take up those lines of investigation.
“We’re prepared to take this investigation wherever it goes,” Thompson said.
Hacienda has reportedly sent a letter to its patients’ families saying they are entitled to free STD and pregnancy tests.
“Every member of the Hacienda organization is troubled beyond words to think that a licensed practical nurse would be capable of seriously harming a patient," Hacienda HealthCare said in a statement. “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."
Authorities at the facility were unaware the victim was pregnant until she was in labor. The woman’s baby is doing well and is believed to be out of the hospital. The woman’s family’s attorney, John Micheaels, said in a statement the infant had been born into “a loving family and will be well cared for.”