Former Nurse Who Sexually Assaulted, Impregnated Incapacitated Woman Gets 10-Year Sentence

Former Arizona nurse Nathan Sutherland, who sexually assaulted and impregnated an incapacitated woman at a long-term care facility he worked at, received a 10-year sentence Thursday.

Sutherland pleaded guilty to sexual assault in a plea bargain, receiving the maximum punishment mentioned under the agreement. Lifetime probation for a conviction for abuse of a vulnerable adult due to his treatment of the woman was also given, The Associated Press reported.

"It's hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case," said Superior Court Judge Margaret LaBianca. She said that Sutherland took advantage of his position to sexually abuse the victim.

Sutherland told the judge about issues in his life stemming from being put up for adoption as a child before his sentencing. He additionally gave his apologies to the victim and her family, acknowledging that the situation is also unfair to the child.

"To the victim, I am sorry," Sutherland said. "You didn't deserve to be hurt no matter what was going on in my personal life and the demons I was fighting. I had no right to put you through that."

The woman, 29, was in the process of delivering the child when the pregnancy was found. An employee at the Hacienda Healthcare facility discovered it while changing the victim's garments. Employees said none of them knew the woman was pregnant.

Employees worked with authorities, Perry Petrilli, the chief executive for Hacienda Healthcare, said in a statement. He said the victim and her family are in their thoughts and that "we are relieved that he will never again torment another innocent human being."

Police said a sample taken from the child matched Sutherland's DNA. The infant, a boy, lives with the woman's mother, who is his guardian.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Nathan Sutherland, Sexual Assault, Sentencing
This undated photo provided by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows Nathan Sutherland, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, for his conviction for sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman who later gave birth in 2018 at a long-term care facility in Phoenix. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP, File

The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted the resignations of Hacienda's chief executive and one of the victim's doctors.

It led to a lawsuit from the victim's parents that alleged Sutherland had cared for their daughter on hundreds of occasions from 2012 through 2018, despite promises from the state — which contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities — that only women would tend to her. An expert on behalf of her family has said many of Sutherland's encounters with the patient occurred overnight, when fewer staff members and visitors were around.

The family's lawyers said Hacienda missed signs that the woman was carrying a baby, pointing out that she had gained weight, had a swollen stomach and missed menstrual periods in the months before the child was born. They said the victim, who has a feeding tube and whose nutrition was reduced in response to her weight gain during the pregnancy, delivered the boy while severely dehydrated and without pain medications.

The victim lived at Hacienda for 26 years, until the child's birth. Her medical conditions stem from a brain disorder that caused motor and cognitive impairments and vision loss. She was also left with no functional use of her limbs.

Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, was fired by Hacienda after his arrest and has since given up his nursing license.

A judge has approved a $15 million settlement against a doctor who cared for the woman for 26 years while she lived at Hacienda Healthcare. The doctor's insurer has argued it has no obligation to pay that amount.

The state of Arizona settled last summer for $7.5 million.