Nathan Sutherland worked as a licensed practical nurse at the Hacienda HealthCare facility.

By Jeff Truesdell
January 23, 2019

A nurse has been arrested in the sexual assault of an Arizona woman who gave birth last month while in a long-term vegetative state.

Nathan Sutherland, 36, worked as a licensed practical nurse at the Hacienda HealthCare facility where staff members were startled to encounter the 29-year-old Native American woman giving birth on Dec. 29, police announced in a news conference Wednesday, reports The Associated Press, Phoenix-area radio station KTAR and  Phoenix TV station KPHO.

Sutherland was arrested on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told the media.

DNA linked Sutherland to the case, police said.

RELATED: After Woman in Long-Term Vegetative State at Ariz. Nursing Facility Gives Birth, CEO Resigns

It was not immediately clear if Sutherland had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Authorities said Sutherland was responsible for the woman’s care at the facility at the time of her alleged assault.

Medical records earlier obtained by PEOPLE state the woman — a resident of the facility since she was a toddler — “lacks sufficient understanding and mental capacity to make decisions or give consents for her medical, placement or financial estate” and suffers from quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia and a seizure disorder.

RELATED: Woman in Long-Term Vegetative State Gives Birth to Baby, Sparking Investigation

Her family’s attorney, John Micheaels, previously had portrayed the woman as someone “in a completely vulnerable state,” while a statement confirming the woman as a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe described her as “in a persistent vegetative state and coma.”

Her family said Tuesday in a statement released through their attorney that the woman “is not in a coma,” despite assertions by police she’s in a vegetative state and the medical records that say she has been unresponsive for decades.

“She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck,” the statement said. “Their daughter responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures.”

RELATED: Comatose Woman Was Last Examined by Doctor More Than 8 Months Prior to Giving Birth in Facility

“The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities,” the statement continued. “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 revelation of the child’s birth — which Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson earlier said “took everyone [at the facility] by surprise” — has been followed by the resignation of Hacienda HealthCare’s CEO, the suspension of one doctor who oversaw the patient’s care and the resignation of another, and the announcement of an internal review by the former Maricopa County Attorney, Rick Romley, to parallel the police investigation.

RELATED: How Could a Woman in a Vegetative State Get Pregnant and Give Birth? An Ob-Gyn Explains

The exact cause of the woman’s condition has not been revealed. The records obtained by PEOPLE show that she’s lived at the Phoenix facility since the age of 2 or 3, and received at least monthly visits in recent years by her mother, who is her court-appointed guardian.

Prior to the birth of the baby boy, those records indicate the patient’s last doctor’s examination took place more than eight months earlier. PEOPLE was unable to reach the doctor who performed that examination.

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