A former nurse with Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping and impregnating a quadriplegic patient. The bubble burst in 2018 when the woman who is paralyzed in both arms and legs and cannot speak, was found to be pregnant. After she gave birth in December 2018, a DNA test confirmed that Nathan Sutherland, one of her nurses, had been sleeping with her.
The woman was in long-term care at the facility and had been on admission since the age of three. Her family said she cannot operate her hands and legs and cannot speak, while also suffering a mental disability due to seizures she experienced as an infant. She was 29 when Sutherland raped and impregnated her.
The spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Jennifer Liewer, said the sentence for Sutherland’s offense – he was charged with sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse – ranged from 5-10 years in prison. Taking sexual advantage of a vulnerable adult also attracts lifetime probation. Judge Margaret LaBianca said it is more worrisome than a nurse should victimize a patient under his care and who ought to be protected against exploitation.
“It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case,” Judge LaBianca stated. “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 defendant used — exploited — that position of special trust to sexually assault the most vulnerable victim.”
The judge said Sutherland had already spent 1,044 days in jail since his arrest in January 2019 and this will be credited towards his 10-year sentence. He must also register as a sex offender after his release, and will be subjected to a lifetime of supervised probation.
Sutherland apologized for his error, and his sister blamed his upbringing and addiction as well as a failed relationship for his descent into hell. Sutherland said he was raised in Haiti and grew up with his sister in an orphanage after being dumped by his father. He said he hated his mother for abandoning him and grew to hate most women, except his sister, after he was sexually molested at the orphanage.
“To the victim — I’m 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. No words can express how painfully sorry I am.”
The incident made the CEO of Hacienda Healthcare and another doctor who attended to the quadriplegic woman resign at the time. Health agencies also implemented several regulations to ensure the safety of incapacitated or disabled patients so that they will not be exploited by their caregivers anymore.