PHOENIX (AP) — Weeks before an employee of a long-term care facility in Phoenix was arrested in the rape of an incapacitated patient, some of his co-workers speculated that a member of the victim’s family was responsible, with a company official even using a slur in suggesting that a relative could be the culprit, according to police reports.
The comments raised questions about whether Hacienda Healthcare employees were trying to shift away blame for the rape of the 30-year-old woman or were in denial about who was responsible. Three weeks after the woman gave birth, police arrested a nurse in January after DNA testing.
A company official, whose name was redacted from the reports, noted in the presence of an officer that the victim was a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe and said incest was common on the reservation, according to the records. Phoenix police declined a request from The Associated Press to identify the male employee who made the slur.
The disparaging comment was mentioned in one of several reports released in recent weeks. The comment was made when officers were serving a search warrant at the facility days after the woman gave birth.
A handful of senior Hacienda executives were called into a conference room to gather documents. The comment was heard by an officer as the company updated investigators on the progress in rounding up the documents, according to records.
When asked to comment on the encounter, Hacienda said it had no way of verifying the statement or who made it.
John Micheaels, an attorney representing the victim’s family, called the comment repugnant and “completely baseless.”
Douglas Miles Sr., a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe who isn’t involved in the victim’s case, said the racist statement was made about a family and community already suffering from the crime.
“It’s done on the backs of Apaches,” Miles said. “For too long, we native people have suffered such outrageous statements. This despicable crime against a disabled woman happened, and it’s Hacienda’s fault and frankly I can’t believe it’s still in business and able to operate now.”
Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult stemming from the rape. His attorney, Edwin Molina, declined to comment on the police reports.
Workers said they didn’t know the victim was pregnant until Dec. 29, when she was in the process of delivering the child. The woman had been living at Hacienda since 1992.
Several Hacienda Healthcare employees, when asked by police what they had heard about the investigation, said they believed the culprit was a family member, fellow employee or construction worker renovating the facility, according to the records.
Other employees voluntarily suggested a family member could be responsible.
In a statement about the reports, Hacienda said its staff fully cooperated with police.
“In an investigation such as this, it is routine for investigators to ask questions related to all people who had access, which includes employees, volunteers, families, friends and other visitors,” the facility’s statement said.
The suspicion that a family member might be responsible for the rape was based on a belief that there was too much foot traffic by employees and regular safety checks on patients to create an opportunity for the crime to be carried out without being noticed.
Instead, they pointed out that family members can stay overnight with a patient in a more secluded housing unit, according to the records.
Nearly two weeks after the victim gave birth, a different Hacienda manager told police that he “cannot see the possibility that a staff member or security” officer committed the act because of the security and safety checks.
The manager, whose name was redacted, pointed to the seclusion of the housing units used for overnight family stays.
The manager contacted investigators four days later, saying it might help to streamline things to eliminate the possibility of staff members as the culprit. When pressed by an investigator, the manager again pointed to the overnight visitation unit.
Many employees expressed anger at the mistreatment of a patient and shock at the allegation that the rape was carried out by a co-worker. They said they undergo training to guard against abuse and neglect and would have reported anything suspicious to authorities, according to the reports.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.