Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenix officer's fatal shooting still "confuses" detectives

More than two weeks after Phoenix police Sgt. Sean Drenth's on-duty shooting death, police have yet to release a suspect's description, a license plate on a getaway car or any other details from the scene.

If Drenth was shot to death by an unknown assailant, investigators have refused to say anything about the killer after the highly decorated patrolman was discovered fatally wounded outside his patrol vehicle in an industrial lot near the Arizona Capitol.

Drenth's shooting is still being treated as a homicide, according to Phoenix police, though the cause and manner of Drenth's Oct. 18 death is still under review by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.

Phoenix homicide investigators have said little else other than they are forced to consider the possibility that Drenth committed suicide based on unidentified evidence collected at the scene of the shooting.

"We are still treating it as a homicide, as we always have, but there is still nothing definitive as to what happened out there," said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump, the department spokesman handling the Drenth case.

"If we had that definitive evidence - one way or another, that it was a homicide or suicide - there would be no reason to withhold that information," Crump said.

By now, crime-scene technicians have already swabbed for evidence such as hair and fibers from inside Drenth's patrol vehicle and conducted a blood-spatter analysis from evidence at the scene, though it was still unclear if the South Mountain Precinct sergeant was shot inside or outside the vehicle.

Silent Witness is offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information in the case with the hope that someone will provide an anonymous tip leading to an arrest, though Phoenix police have yet to confirm Drenth was murdered.

Police said he was neither writing a report nor responding to an emergency call when he parked at the lot near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Jefferson Street and 19th Avenue on Oct. 18.

The vehicle is one of three crime scenes in the Drenth case, according to experts. The scene around the vehicle and the sergeant's body are the others.

Each has already been processed for latent fingerprints and ballistics at this point of the investigation, though investigators have declined comment on the results of tests conducted in the Phoenix Police Crime Lab.

Doctors at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said they could take up to three months to release the official death-investigation report.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a longtime Pennsylvania medical examiner and forensic pathology expert at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said any shooting like Drenth's should be approached initially as it were a homicide.

He said based on his limited knowledge of the case, that a major metro police agency such as Phoenix police likely have an idea at this stage of the investigation - or that they simply could be stumped based on evidence that could suggest a murder or suicide.

"Two weeks of silence makes me highly suspicious," Wecht said. "It makes me think they've got some questions, that there may be more there than they're saying at this time and that it might not be a homicide," he said.

The case largely hinges on the weapon or weapons used in Drenth's shooting. Police have declined to confirm if Drenth was shot at a distance, from close alongside his vehicle or with one of his police weapons - such as his shotgun, his duty handgun or a secondary handgun officers carry on patrol.

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