Ex-Arizona nurse gets 10-year sentence for sex assault of incapacitated woman

PHOENIX — A former Arizona nurse who pleaded guilty to abusing an incapacitated woman who later gave birth to his child was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday.

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Nathan Sutherland, 39, was charged in 2019 with sexually assaulting the woman, who was a quadriplegic and unable to communicate, KNXV reported. He pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse in September according to The Arizona Republic.

The abuse of a vulnerable adult charge brings a lifetime of probation, according to the Republic.

“It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case,” Judge Margaret LaBianca said Thursday. “Quadriplegic, unable to communicate. In addition, (the) defendant was in a position of utmost trust and control -- a nurse. A caregiver. The very person meant to protect the victim. And (the) defendant used -- exploited -- that position of special trust to sexually assault the most vulnerable victim.”

LaBianca said the 1,044 days Sutherland spent in jail will be credited toward the sentence, according to the Republic. After he is released, Sutherland will face lifetime supervised probation and will be required to register as a sex offender, the newspaper reported.

Sutherland cared for the victim as a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix before the victim gave birth to a boy on Dec. 29, 2018.

>> Ex-Arizona nurse pleads guilty in sex assault of woman in vegetative state

An employee at the facility was changing the garments of the then-29-year-old woman and noticed the patient was in labor, according to the Republic. Employees told police that they had no idea the woman was pregnant, the newspaper reported.

Sutherland was arrested after police tested a DNA sample taken from him by court order.

Before the sentence was announced, Sutherland told LaBianca about the problems in his life that resulted from being put up for adoption as a child, The Associated Press reported. He also offered apologies to the victim and her family.

“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.”

Sutherland’s sister and adoptive mother also spoke at the sentencing, according to the Republic. They said he was normally a very kind and caring person, but addiction and failed romantic relationships had landed him in a dark place.

In 1992, the victim was in a near-drowning incident at the age of three that left her in a vegetative state, KTVK reported. Her child is now under the guardianship of her mother, according to the Republic.

A licensed practical nurse, Sutherland worked at the facility since at least 2012 and was assigned to a unit treating intellectually disabled people two years later, The New York Times reported, citing a 2019 statement by Hacienda HealthCare.

Sutherland was fired immediately after the company learned of his arrest, the statement said.

A judge has approved a $15 million settlement against a doctor who cared for the woman while she lived at the facility, according to the AP. The doctor’s insurer has argued it has no obligation to pay that amount.

The state of Arizona settled with the victim’s family last summer for $7.5 million, the AP reported.