PHOENIX — A 36-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in a vegetative state who then gave birth last month at a Phoenix health care facility, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said Wednesday.
Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who was caring for the woman at the Hacienda HealthCare facility, has been arrested and is being booked on preliminary charges of sexual assault and vulnerable-adult abuse, Williams said on Wednesday.
Williams confirmed Sutherland worked at the facility where the woman lived and had been providing care to her.
The 29-year-old victim has been a patient for at least a decade after a near-drowning incident left her in a vegetative state. The baby boy was born on Dec. 29.
In the days that followed, police obtained a warrant for DNA samples from employees at the facility.
Doctors who cared for Arizona sexual assault victim no longer treating patients there
Two doctors who led care for a woman who gave birth after being sexually assaulted at an Arizona health care facility are no longer treating its patients, Hacienda HealthCare said Monday.
One of the unidentified physicians resigned, and the other has been suspended, Hacienda said.
Caretakers of the woman were taken by surprise by the December 29 birth, with one telling a 911 dispatcher, “We had no idea she was pregnant.” The woman is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and has long been in a vegetative state, the tribe’s chairman has said.
Phoenix police recently said they are conducting a sexual assault investigation and were gathering DNA from men who work at the facility. The woman, 29, has been there since 1992.
Family says woman is not in a coma
The parents of the woman said in a statement Tuesday that she has “significant intellectual disabilities” but is able to move and respond to sound.
“The victim’s parents would like to make clear that their daughter is not in a coma,” said the statement released to CNN by the attorney for the parents, John A. Michaels. “She has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood.”
The woman does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck, according to the statement. She also “responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures.”
“She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family,” the parents said.
“The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities.”
Woman has breathing and feeding tubes
A doctor who gave a yearly checkup to the patient about 37 weeks before she gave birth wrote that there were no major changes in her health, according to medical records sent to an Arizona court.
Medical records say the woman had an external exam April 16. A doctor noted her “firm belly” in the abdomen section. There were no notes on the forms about a pelvic exam, or urine or blood tests.
The doctor had given the woman her physicals since 2009 when a court appointed her mother as legal guardian.
The woman has breathing and feeding tubes, the records show. In March, she weighed 112 pounds.