Nathan Sutherland, a nurse at the Phoenix-based Hacienda HealthCare long-term care facility, is accused of sexually assaulting the woman

By Greg Hanlon and Jeff Truesdell
May 24, 2019 12:12 PM

A court filing by the family of a woman who gave birth while in a long-term vegetative condition in an Arizona nursing facility states that according to doctors who examined her, the woman had likely been pregnant before.

PEOPLE obtained a copy of the notice of claim filed late Wednesday against the state of Arizona, proposing a $45 million settlement to a civil lawsuit that relatives of the victim — who was 29 at the time of her child’s birth last November and has been identified as a Native American woman of the Apache tribe — are preparing.

The filing says doctors at the Maricopa County Medical Center who examined the victim after the baby was born believe her pregnancy was likely a “repeat parous event,” meaning it’s likely she had been pregnant previously.

The notice of claim also cites the findings of Dr. Sharon Cooper, who said the woman had “significant scarring” in her private area, which according to Cooper is evidence she was likely “violently sexually assaulted and violated on multiple occasions.”

The filing states the victim “experienced severe physical and emotional trauma as a result of likely months, if not years, of repeated violent rape and assault.”

Credit: AP/REX/Shutterstoc; Ross D Franklin/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Nathan Sutherland, 37, a nurse at the Phoenix-based Hacienda HealthCare long-term care facility, was arrested earlier this year, and has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse. His attorney has not responded to PEOPLE’s previous requests for comment.

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“Although [the victim] could not ask for help or verbalize her fear, in all probability [she] would have recognized the body odor and voice of her assailant each time he was in her room, which likely caused her severe emotional distress and fear that she was going to be sexually violated again,” the filing states.

The filing alleges the facility didn’t give the woman “any medication to ease the pain of the pregnancy and/or delivery,” and further states she had the ability “to perceive her surroundings, those around her, and to experience pain and discomfort.”

It alleges that, despite at least 83 opportunities, medical staff at Hacienda HealthCare workers misdiagnosed her pregnancy despite ample evidence — including that she did not menstruate in the months leading up to the birth, that staffers noticed a “large and hard mass” in her abdomen on three occasions, that her stomach was characterized as “distended” during 24 examinations and that nurses checking on her noted her private parts appeared swollen.

Due to their alleged failure to notice her pregnancy, staff allegedly prescribed laxatives for the mass in her stomach and reduced her calorie intake in response to her weight gain.

The victim, at 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, according to her medical records.

Nathan Sutherland (left)
| Credit: AZCentral

Police say they learned about Sutherland’s possible involvement after search warrants turned up records from the facility identifying those who may have had access to the victim during the time she was impregnated.

DNA samples were collected from “numerous individuals” and Sutherland was arrested after providing a DNA sample under a court order that later matched with the child.

The baby is said to be healthy, and in the custody of the victim’s family.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office would not comment on the filing or its claims.