'Troubled Beyond Words': Facility Fires Nurse Immediately After His Sex Assault Arrest

Police allege DNA evidence ties the suspect, Nathan Sutherland, to the Dec. 29 birth by a woman in a long-term vegetative state

The nursing facility where a woman in a long-term vegetative state gave birth last month fired the suspect in her alleged sexual assault shortly after his arrest Tuesday, saying in a statement the incident leaves them “troubled beyond words.”

The suspect, 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland, was in court Wednesday but did not enter a plea and was ordered held in the Maricopa County, Arizona, jail on a cash-only $500,000 bond, reports The Associated Press.

His attorney, David Gregan, told the court Sutherland has no prior criminal record and has the right to find his own DNA expert to challenge the findings that police say led to his arrest as the alleged biological father of the victim’s baby son, according to the AP.

Nathan Sutherland, at left, in court Jan. 23, 2019.

Sutherland was “terminated from Hacienda [HealthCare] the moment our leadership team learned of his arrest,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday to PEOPLE.

“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,” it says. “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 29-year-old victim’s family and their attorney declined comment on the arrest, the attorney John Micheaels said in a written statement to PEOPLE.

Sutherland was arrested after providing a court-ordered DNA sample that matched with the child who was born on Dec. 29, Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said in a news conference Wednesday.

The suspect was arrested on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, authorities said. He invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and did not answer police questions.

Medical records earlier obtained by PEOPLE state the victim — a resident of the facility since she was a toddler — “lacks sufficient understanding and mental capacity to make decisions or give consents for her medical, placement or financial estate” and suffers from quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia and a seizure disorder.

Suspect Was ‘Responsible for Care of That Victim’

Thompson say Sutherland, who had worked at the facility “since about 2011,” was among “numerous individuals” from whom police sought DNA samples via court order after search warrants turned up records that showed they may have had access to the victim around the time she was impregnated.

“When the incident occurred, he was responsible for care of that victim,” he says.

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Sutherland was brought to Phoenix police headquarters on Tuesday and surrendered a DNA sample after “he found out that we did have a court order compelling him to provide that evidence” says Thompson. Sutherland later was released but detained again by police the same day after crime lab testing indicated a match.

“We still have evidence to go through,” Thompson says. “We want to make sure we have a solid case. At this point we have developed probable cause, and that’s why Mr. Sutherland was arrested.”

Sutherland held a current practical nurses’s license from the state of Arizona and “had undergone an extensive background check” prior to his hiring to work in the facility, Hacienda said in its statement.

The facility has launched its own internal review of events leading to the child’s birth and the failure of its staff to notice or report it. The company’s CEO has since resigned, and one doctor who oversaw the victim’s care has been suspended while another has quit.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure justice in this case,” the company said in its statement following the arrest.

“In the past two weeks the Hacienda team has increased security measures to ensure the safety of all of 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,” it said.

“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.”

Asked about the health of the baby, Thompson told the media on Wednesday: “The baby, I am told, is doing good.”

“This is a baby that’s — I would just say that we can’t always choose how we come into this life,” he says. “But what we can choose to do as a community is love this child, and that’s what we have the opportunity to do, and I am pleased to say that the baby, I am told, is doing quite well.”

He could not comment on how the pregnancy went undetected until the mother went into labor and police were alerted by a 911 distress call by a staff member who frantically told the dispatcher, “We had no idea this woman was pregnant.”

“That’s a question better asked by the health officials,” Thompson said. “I’m certain that’s a question they will ask through their internal investigation.”

Thompson says police are investigating whether other patients at the facility may have been assaulted as well, but so far have no evidence of that. “We are prepared to take this investigation wherever it goes,” he says.

• with reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK

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