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Phoenix officer's death to be ruled a suicide, police say
Phoenix police said Tuesday that the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office will announce today that it has ruled the death of Sgt. Sean Drenth a suicide.
Drenth, 34, was found fatally wounded near the state Capitol on the night of Oct. 18, 2010. He was lying on his back on the ground next to the passenger side of his patrol car. The driver- and passenger-side doors were open. Drenth evidently was killed by a blast from his shotgun, which was found resting on his chest with the muzzle pointing toward his chin.
Though many circumstances suggested suicide, particularly the shotgun on his chest, others suggested homicide. His service pistol had been flung 40 feet from where his body lay, there were signs of a struggle, and a secondary weapon Drenth carried had been fired toward where his service pistol was found.
Investigators also were perplexed by evidence indicating there had been someone at the scene whose presence police could not explain.
Police Sgt. Trent Crump said Tuesday that, in recent months, Phoenix investigators and the medical examiner had been working with "four forensics experts to try to determine the manner of Sergeant Drenth's death."
He said the experts included authorities on firearms and a forensic pathologist.
"We know the cause of death was a wound from his shotgun," Crump said. "But based on what the experts have said, the medical examiner has told us he is going to rule the manner of death suicide. The Phoenix homicide report, however, will remain as it has been -- that this is a death unknown -- until we have some questions explained."
Crump said investigators want the same things explained that they have always puzzled over.
The spokesman said the presence of fingerprints, footprints and DNA at the scene of Drenth's death that could not be explained as belonging to any of the people known to be there makes the case remain a mystery.
"The case is not closed," Crump said.
At the time of his death, Drenth was one of more than 24 officers who, for more than a year, were under investigation into reported theft while working off-duty at a south Phoenix housing complex.
They were accused of pocketing thousands of dollars for security services that they claimed to have done but that authorities allege they didn't provide.
Drenth died before indictments were made in the case.
Three of Drenth's fellow officers and a former officer were indicted, and police officials later confirmed that Drenth would have been indicted had he lived. They said Drenth could have faced felony charges.
But authorities later said interviews that detectives conducted with people who knew Drenth threw cold water on the notion that he would have killed himself over the investigation or for any other reason.