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Former nurse pleads guilty to sexual abuse of intellectually disabled woman at long-term care facility

By Aya Elamroussi and Andy Rose, CNN

A former nurse pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled woman in an Arizona long-term health care facility.

Nathan Sutherland also pleaded guilty to abusing a vulnerable adult, court records show, at the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, where the victim had been living for years.

Sutherland, a former licensed practical nurse who was caring for the woman, was accused of impregnating her in 2018 while she was in a vegetative state at the health care facility, prosecutors said. She gave birth at the facility in December 2018.

In January 2019, Sutherland was arrested after a sample of his DNA matched the baby’s, police said.

Sutherland is scheduled to be sentenced November 4. His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

The woman’s family filed a lawsuit in May 2019 against Arizona state and Hacienda HealthCare, saying she had been raped repeatedly and had likely been pregnant before.

According to the lawsuit, the Maricopa County Medical Center examined the woman after she gave birth and concluded she’d been “violated repeatedly.” Her giving birth was likely a “repeat parous event,” which means she may have been pregnant before, the documents said.

The victim suffered multiple sexual assaults that caused her permanent physical and emotional pain and caused her parents’ significant emotional distress, the lawsuit said.

She has intellectual disabilities because of childhood seizures and is bedridden and nonverbal. But she can move some of her extremities, respond to sound and make facial gestures, according to her family.

“This woman was unable to move; she was unable to communicate. In other words, she was helpless,” Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson has said. “This started as a sexual assault investigation from day one.”

CNN doesn’t name victims of sexual abuse.

Caretakers didn’t know the woman was pregnant.

When the woman gave birth to the baby at the Hacienda HealthCare facility, her caregivers had no idea she was pregnant.

The family’s lawsuit said her caretakers failed to detect her pregnancy despite signs such as missed periods, a “mass” in her abdomen, growing weight and swollen legs. As a result, she went through her pregnancy without any proper care and in a state of malnutrition, the lawsuit said.

Phoenix police released audio of the frantic 911 call a nurse at the facility made after the woman gave birth.

CNN affiliate KNXV obtained the audio of the 911 call, which illustrated the chaotic scene as workers rushed to save the baby boy, who was not breathing and “turning blue.”

“OK, what’s the emergency?” a dispatcher asked.

“Someone just had a baby — one of the patients just had a baby, and we had no idea she was pregnant,” the nurse said. “We were not prepared for this.”

The woman at the time appeared to be stable.

Staff worked to resuscitate the baby, doing compressions on his chest and using a self-inflating resuscitator — and soon after he began crying.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Dakin Andone, Jason Hanna, Keith Allen, Faith Karimi and Chris Boyette contributed to this report

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