PHOENIX – It’s been 10 months since the body of Sgt. Sean Drenth was found near the state Capitol and investigators still do not know exactly what led up to his death. What’s more, they’re still not sure if it was murder or suicide.
In an unprecedented move late last year, more than two dozen officers were ordered by the court to submit DNA samples and police linked Drenth’s death with an off-duty work scam to which several officers later pleaded not guilty.
Now, Phoenix police have asked the court to compel five more officers and one civilian city employee to provide DNA samples, and the court has agreed.
Investigators said they’ve taken more than 330 DNA swabs from people who were at the scene of Drenth’s death or who had any contact with him, his vehicle or his equipment before he died.
Detectives said the goal of the DNA tests was to rule those people out. The six who until now had refused to give samples said they had problems with possibly being considered suspects.
“You can’t dictate a criminal investigation,” said Phoenix Police Sgt. Trent Crump Tuesday morning. “You can’t come in here and say, ‘I’ll go to the scene, but I won’t provide something to help you out later to eliminate from being there.’”
The six said they’re worried their DNA will be included in a national criminal database. Police, however, said that won’t happen because it does not meet the requirements; they're not suspects in a crime.
Agreeing with police, a judge ordered the DNA testing to move ahead. Those samples have already been collected and analysis is under way.
None of the six is believed to be connected to that fraudulent schemes investigation involving several officers from the South Mountain Precinct.
Police have released very few details about their investigation into what happened to Drenth, who was found the night of Oct. 18. He was on the ground next to his patrol car in a parking lot at 17th Avenue and Jackson Street. He had been shot with his own shotgun, which was found lying on his chest.
Those close to the sergeant, however, maintain that he would not have committed suicide, even though he was under investigation for alleged fraudulent schemes.
While the initial appearance of the scene might have indicated suicide to anyone jumping to conclusions, police said they have evidence indicating that somebody else was there that night. So far, they have not been able to explain that person’s presence at the scene.
Investigators said that’s why they needed DNA. They said it was part of an “exclusionary process” so they would able to explain exactly who was there and why. At this point, they still cannot do that.
The hope is that these six DNA samples will help investigators put the puzzle of Drenth’s death together.
Drenth, 35, was a 12-year veteran of the force.
Because the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet ruled on Drenth’s cause of death, neither insurance benefits nor death benefits have been settled with his surviving family.
At a news conference in May, Lt. Joe Knott said investigators might never know what happened the night Drenth died.