Nurse arrested over sexual assault of woman impregnated while in vegetative state in Arizona health facility

Clark Mindock

A nurse has been arrested for sexual assault after an incapacitated woman gave birth to a child in Phoenix last month, according to police.

The child’s birth sparked a police investigation into the Hacienda Healthcare facility, and it was announced on Tuesday that two doctors who had been in charge of the woman’s care were no longer with the company. CEO Bill Timmons resigned from the company earlier this month after the sexual assault and birth.

The alleged rapist was identified by Phoenix police as 36-year-old Nathan Sutherland.

He made his first court appearance hours after his arrest on Wednesday. A Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner released Mr Sutherland from jail on a $500,000 bail bond. He has been ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device while out on bail.

“From the minute we first became aware of the crime, we have virtually worked non stop seven days a week to resolve this case,” Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams said on Wednesday morning, announcing Mr Sutherland’s arrest.

The 29-year-old woman has been in a vegetative state since a near-drowning at the age of three. Before giving birth to the child late last month, healthcare workers at the facility reportedly did not know she was pregnant.

“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” an individual familiar with the situation told Arizona Family earlier this month. “From what I’ve been told she was moaning. And they didn’t know what was wrong with her.”

The child’s birth sparked an investigation and review by regulators, and DNA samples were taken from men who work at the facility.

The victim has not been identified, and little information about her identity has been released by officials.

San Carlos Apache tribe officials said in a statement on 8 January that the woman was in a “coma”, and indicated she is a member of the tribe. A subsequent statement from the family’s lawyers said she was not in a coma but had “significant intellectual disabilities”.

“The important thing here is that contrary to what’s been reported, she is a person, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family,” attorney John Michaels told The Arizona Republic.

The woman’s guardian, her mother, was described last year in an annual report as “an incapacitated adult”, and that she suffers from several conditions including a form of mental incapacity, paralysis of the limbs, recurring pneumonia, a seizure disorder and other conditions.

A request for comment sent to a spokesperson for Hacienda Healthcare was not immediately returned.

Sarah Harvard contributed to this report