Federal judge throws out suit against Phoenix PD homicide detectives

PHOENIX - A judge has thrown out a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against a group of homicide detectives in the Phoenix Police Department.

In their lawsuit, Phoenix police officers Daniel Bill, Bryan Hanania, and Michael Malpass claimed their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when they were court ordered to supply DNA samples to the detectives during a homicide investigation involving a fellow officer.

"Taking all of Plantiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that there was nothing unreasonable about Defendants' search of Plaintiffs' DNA or the manner in which it was conducted," U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton wrote in her decision filed April 16, 2013.

Judicial Watch, the organization which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three officers, released a statement Thursday, expressing disappointment with the ruling.

"When one considers that the ‘search' required the officers to open their mouths and have them swabbed for a DNA sample, the District Court's decision seems rather extraordinary – especially in light of the Supreme Court decision recently requiring search warrants for most alcohol blood tests in DUI investigations," Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said.

"Not only were officers Bill, Hanania, and Malpass not ‘suspected of committing a crime,' they were in the very process of actually trying to solve one," Fitton said.

The DNA had been collected in connection with the mysterious on-duty shooting death of Phoenix police Sgt. Sean Drenth.

Drenth was on-duty when he was found shot to death with his own shotgun in October 2010. Dozens of police officers responded to the scene when they learned of the shooting. As a result, the crime scene was compromised.

Homicide detectives asked for voluntary DNA samples from officers and city officials who had been to the crime scene, but five officers and a civilian employee refused to hand over their DNA samples - including the three officers who filed the lawsuit.

Bill, Hanania, and Malpass would have voluntarily supplied their DNA samples if the city had promised not to store it in a police crime database for decades into the future, said Paul Orfanedes, the Director of Litigation for Judicial Watch, when the suit was initially filed.

The officers would really like to see a change in police policy when it comes to collecting DNA samples from police employees, said Orfanedes. 

Orfanedes said the officers would also like their DNA samples to be returned to them or destroyed.

According to the Judicial Watch complaint, the officers who filed the lawsuit were not near the crime scene at the time of Drenth's death.

Each of the officers responded to the crime scene, but none of the plaintiffs had direct contact with Drenth's body, vehicle or weapons, according to a statement released by Judicial Watch.

"We have always felt like our actions were both reasonable and lawful," said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump. "The court orders in this case were granted by the Superior Court and now upheld by the District Court."

The lawsuit claimed the Phoenix Police Department's management, "[D]eprived Plaintiffs Bill, Hanania, and Malpass of their rights under the U.S. Constitution by subjecting them to buccal swabs for purposes of DNA analysis without obtaining search warrants, without probable cause, and without having a non-law enforcement special need."

"Simply because officers swear their allegiance to uphold the law doesn't mean they surrender their rights to be protected under it," said Fitton when the suit was filed.

"The Fourth Amendment cannot be selectively applied by the City of Phoenix. Citizens have a right to be secure in their persons – and this includes their DNA," he said.

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