Phoenix police arrest former nurse after woman in vegetative state gives birth


Police in Arizona have made an arrest in connection with a woman who gave birth while in a vegetative state.

The 36-year-old suspect, Nathan Sutherland, was arrested after investigators obtained a DNA sample Tuesday, according to the Phoenix Police Department. Police said that they had determined that his DNA matched the baby’s DNA and he was booked into the Maricopa County Jail on Tuesday after being charged with one count of vulnerable adult abuse and one count of sexual assault.

Authorities said he was responsible for caring for the woman at the time of the alleged abuse that appears to have resulted in the pregnancy, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department announced in a press conference Wednesday.

Sutherland had been a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix since 2011, police said.

He was identified as a person who had access to the victim in the case, and investigators obtained a DNA sample from him yesterday using a court order, police said. Sutherland was not working at the center at the time police retrieved the evidence.

In a statement released through their attorney on Tuesday, the family said they “would like to make clear that their daughter is not in a coma.”

“She has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood,” the statement read. “She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head and neck. Their daughter responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures. The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music, and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family.”

After the birth, Hacienda Healthcare released a statement describing the incident as “deeply disturbing,” saying it would fully cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation.

Officials at the facility did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment about the arrest.

Sources told Phoenix CBS affiliate KPHO, which first reported the incident, that the woman had been a patient at the facility for at least 10 years after a near-drowning incident left her in a vegetative state. None of the staff was aware that she was pregnant, a source told the station.

The woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Dec. 29, KPHO reported.

After the birth, the facility was mandated to increase security and staff presence during interaction with patients and increase monitoring of patient care areas, the Arizona state Department of Health Services told ABC Phoenix affiliate KNXV earlier this month.

Additionally, another person is required to be in the room when male health-care aides provide treatment to female patients.

It remains unclear whether Sutherland has retained a defense attorney. A spokesman for the Maricopa County Public Defender’s office did not immediately respond to an ABC News request to determine whether Sutherland has been assigned a public defender.

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