A nurse is accused of impregnating a woman in a vegetative state who later gave birth

Article Image

A 36-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of impregnating woman in a vegetative state who gave birth last month at a Phoenix health care facility, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.

Posted: Jan 23, 2019 4:40 PM
Updated: Jan 23, 2019 4:40 PM

A 36-year-old nurse has been arrested on suspicion of impregnating a woman in a vegetative state who unexpectedly gave birth last month at a Phoenix health care facility, police said Wednesday.

Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who was caring for the woman at the Hacienda HealthCare facility, has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, according to court documents from Maricopa County Superior Court.

A court order compelled Sutherland to provide a DNA sample to investigators on Tuesday, and crime lab technicians determined his DNA "matched the baby," Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said. Sutherland was arrested on Tuesday.

A judge set a cash bond at $500,000 and scheduled Sutherland's next court appearance for January 30. The nurse is being held in the Maricopa County Jail.

Sutherland has "invoked his Fifth Amendment rights" and has not participated in an interview with police, Thompson said.

The arrest is the latest chapter in a weekslong investigation that started when the 29-year-old woman -- who is not able to give consent and has been at the facility since 2002 -- gave birth in late December.

Sutherland has worked at the facility since 2011, and investigators are trying to determine whether he assaulted anyone else, or whether this woman was assaulted more than once, Thompson said.

"We owed this arrest to the victim. We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community -- that innocent baby," Phoenix police Chief Jeri Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.

The woman's family is aware of Sutherland's arrest but declines to comment further, their attorney John Michaels said.

Hacienda HealthCare said that every member of the company is "troubled beyond words to think that a ... nurse could be capable of seriously harming a patient."

The arrest came two days after the facility announced, without elaboration, that one doctor who led the woman's care resigned, and another was suspended. The company did not name the doctors, and police did not mention them at their news conference.

'We had no idea she was pregnant'

Caretakers of the woman were surprised 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.

"The baby, I am told, is doing quite well," Thompson said, without elaborating on who is taking care of the infant.

Police began investigating the case as a sexual assault because the woman cannot give consent. Hacienda was ordered to hire a third-party manager to oversee several of its facilities.

Investigators received search warrants for records that helped them identify people who had access to the woman, as well as court orders to get DNA evidence from men who worked at the facility, police said.

Detectives learned that Sutherland was among those responsible for caring for the woman "during the time this sexual assault occurred," leading to the court order compelling him to provide a DNA sample, Thompson said.

At Sutherland's initial court appearance, Cohen explained the prosecution's decision to seek the significant cash bond.

"The charges in this case are very serious, the defendant sexually assaulted a very vulnerable adult who had no capacity to resist, no capacity to cry out, no capacity to do anything other than to be subject to what the defendant did to her," Cohen said.

Sutherland attorney David Gregan asked for a much lower bond, saying there was "no direct evidence that Mr. Sutherland has committed these acts," and that he anticipated that Sutherland's defense would include his own DNA expert.

Sutherland, wearing a dark shirt and jacket, said nothing other than his name and date of birth.

If he posts bond, Sutherland must be under house arrest and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet while awaiting trial, a judge said.

Sutherland has also been ordered to stay away from the Hacienda HealthCare facility and cannot contact the victim or any witnesses involved in the case, according to the court documents.

CNN has reached out to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for comment on the development.

Hacienda HealthCare offers apology

"Once again, we offer an apology and send our deepest sympathies to the client and her family, to the community and to our agency partners at every level," the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Hacienda HealthCare said Sutherland, who had a current nursing license and had undergone an extensive background check before he was hired, was fired as soon as the company learned of his arrest.

"We will do everything in our power to ensure justice in this case," the statement said, adding that Hacienda had been cooperating with investigators.

"In the past two weeks, the Hacienda team has increased security measures to ensure the safety of all our patients. We will continue to do so. We also will continue to review and improve what is already an in-depth vetting process for caregivers at Hacienda. We will not tolerate any mistreatment of a Hacienda patient, nor will we stop until every Hacienda patient is as safe as we can make them."

Family says woman is not in a coma

CNN is not reporting the woman's name because police are investigating the case as a sexual assault.

The woman's parents 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. "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. 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 34211

Reported Deaths: 2125
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9761576
Lake3573186
Allen160069
Cass15877
St. Joseph126634
Elkhart126228
Hendricks116671
Hamilton115493
Johnson1097108
Madison58659
Porter53428
Bartholomew50834
Clark49741
LaPorte43023
Howard40428
Tippecanoe3933
Delaware38536
Jackson3821
Shelby37122
Hancock33127
Floyd31839
Boone31635
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2662
Montgomery23817
White2338
Noble22821
Clinton2271
Decatur22431
Grant21022
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry17211
Greene16924
Vigo1688
Dearborn16821
Monroe16712
Warrick16628
Lawrence15924
Miami1401
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Kosciusko1271
Orange12622
Scott1193
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Marshall1021
Carroll932
Daviess8516
Steuben832
Wayne785
Fayette777
Newton7710
Wabash772
LaGrange762
Jasper661
Washington521
Clay511
Jay500
Fulton491
Randolph473
Rush462
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley413
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan351
Owen341
Brown331
Perry320
Wells310
Benton300
Knox280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke170
Adams171
Posey160
Gibson152
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 118917

Reported Deaths: 5330
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook771193603
Lake8238288
DuPage7620368
Kane6259176
Will5510273
Winnebago220955
McHenry153972
St. Clair112180
Kankakee90045
Kendall77819
Rock Island65124
Champaign6277
Madison57259
Boone44117
DeKalb3994
Sangamon34829
Jackson28210
Randolph2694
Peoria2218
McLean21813
Ogle2033
Stephenson2012
Macon19419
Clinton18617
Union15510
LaSalle15013
Whiteside13912
Iroquois1314
Coles12615
Out of IL1181
Warren1150
Jefferson10116
Grundy982
Knox980
Monroe9511
McDonough8711
Lee811
Unassigned800
Cass730
Tazewell725
Henry690
Williamson661
Pulaski560
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry420
Montgomery391
Vermilion391
Morgan361
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas270
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard200
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock170
Mercer170
Carroll162
Shelby161
Bureau151
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 57°
Robinson
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
60° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 60°
Rockville
Overcast
53° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 53°
Casey
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Brazil
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 57°
Marshall
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
A calm evening is expected
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events