After a woman in a vegetative state unexpectedly gave birth at Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix, police scrambled to figure out what must have been the sexual assault that preceded it.

On Wednesday, police charged Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old licensed nurse, with sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. Authorities obtained a search warrant compelling Sutherland, who was at least partially responsible for the victim’s care at the facility, to give a DNA sample Tuesday morning. A few hours later, he was in handcuffs.

The birth — and the sexual assault of a vulnerable individual — cast a harsh glare on conditions at a nonprofit organization that bills itself as a leading provider of health care for Phoenix’s medically fragile.

The 29-year-old woman who gave birth a few days after Christmas was a special — and especially dangerous — case: She had been in a persistent vegetative state since 1992. The infant was delivered by a Hacienda HealthCare nurse.

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