Medical Examiner refuses to explain Drenth suicide ruling, police case still open

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner refuses to speak with the family of a fallen police officer to explain its suicide ruling in the death of Sgt. Sean Drenth.

According to an August letter addressed to an attorney representing Drenth's family, the Director of the Office of the Medical Examiner, David Boyer, said his office "respectfully declines [the family's] invitation to a meeting."

The letter came nearly five months after the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Mark Fischione, told the ABC15 Investigators that someone in the office would meet with the family.

"We will (meet with them), it's just that there are still things going on right now," he said in March. 

The Drenth's told the ABC15 Investigators no one from that office has ever held a meeting with them.

"It has been a huge slap in the face," said Diane Drenth, Sean Drenth's mother.  "All we want are answers.  We want the truth."

"It's ludicrous to me that one person can apparently make the determination (on the manner of death)," she said.  "This alters people's lives."

POLICE NEVER RULED OUT HOMICIDE

In December 2011, the forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Drenth , Dr. Robert Lyon, ruled the Phoenix police officer's shooting death a suicide.

Lyon made the ruling more than a year after Drenth was mysteriously shot with his own shotgun in a dirt parking lot near the state capitol.  Strange circumstances at the scene – including Drenth's two other handguns tossed carelessly around the crime scene – made the case difficult for homicide detectives to solve.

"This is a huge opinion on his part that he doesn't seem to have to explain," said Diane Drenth.

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"I still don't sleep well.  It's on my mind still – all the time," said Colleen Drenth, Sean Drenth's widow.

Phoenix police have never ruled out the possibility that someone else killed Drenth.

According to Sgt. Trent Crump, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, the case is still open and unsolved.

Crump said the homicide detectives do not know who pulled the trigger that killed Drenth. 

The case is considered as "death unknown," he said.

POLICE CONSULTANTS SAID DEATH IS "UNDETERMINED"

Reports filed by two Phoenix Police Department consultants, who reviewed the shooting death of Sgt. Sean Drenth, suggested the case should be ruled "undetermined".

 "Regrettably, the central issue of suicide versus homicide was not answerable as of this writing from the examinations and the tests carried out by this writer," Lucien Haag, a criminalist consultant, wrote in his report.

"I would be hesitant to call this death a suicide and feel it would be best to rule the manner of death as undetermined," Vincent DiMaio, a forensic pathologist consultant, wrote in his report.

MEDICAL EXAMINER HAS "OWN EVIDENCE"

"We have our own evidence that led Dr. Lyon to that manner of death," Fischione said in March. 

Fischione would not reveal the specific evidence that proves the death was a suicide.

"I don't think he has anything," said Colleen Drenth, wondering what evidence the Office of the Medical Examiner has that confirms her husband's death was really a suicide. 

"I think if he had anything the police department would have it as well and they would be able to make the same decision.  I think he did his decision based on rumors, what he felt like at the time," she said.

"We've done nothing to them," said Diane Drenth.  "We've not made any threats.  We've done nothing.  All I want to do is understand why they made that (suicide) ruling."

"The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office remains confident in its forensic investigation and corresponding cause and manner of death determinations," Boyer wrote in his August letter.

OTHER MEDICAL EXAMINERS WOULD MEET WITH A FAMILY

The ABC15 Investigators contacted every county in the state to determine how a medical examiner in those counties would respond to a family with questions about one of their rulings.

Many smaller counties, including Pinal, Gila, Greenlee, Graham, Cochise, Navajo, Yuma, La Paz, and Santa Cruz, contract with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner to handle their autopsies.

According to Dr. Gregory Hess, the Chief Medical Examiner in Pima County, Hess would meet with a family that had questions or concerns about one of his rulings.

A spokesperson for Coconino County said the medical examiner there would "definitely" meet with a family that had questions about a ruling.

Apache County's medical examiner, Dr. James Sielski, would also meet with a family that had questions.

Yavapai County's autopsies are handled by Fischione. 

According to the Alan Vigneron, the Director of Human Resources in Yavapai County, the County has previously

met with families in Yavapai County when they have questions.

According to the Mohave County Medical Examiner, Dr. Rexene Worrell, she would meet with a family to discuss their questions if they were not belligerent.  However, she said she would cancel the meeting if she knew the family was going to bring an attorney to the meeting as the Drenth's had planned to do.

BENEFITS DENIED

The Drenth suicide ruling prevents line-of-duty benefits from being paid to Drenth's widow, and stops Drenth's name from being added to a special memorial wall designated for fallen City of Phoenix Employees.

Most of all, Colleen Drenth wants to see her husband's named engraved on a national wall for fallen officers in Washington, DC.

"Sean deserves to be on the memorial," she said with tears in her eyes, "and that's what we're going to fight to put him on."

LEAD INVESTIGATORS OFF THE CASE

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the lead lieutenant in the case, Lt. Joe Knott, is no longer in the homicide bureau.  He chose to the leave the unit and now works in another capacity at the department.

The lead homicide detective, Warren Brewer, is in the process of being promoted to sergeant.  As a result of that promotion, he will return to patrol duties and leave his post in the homicide unit.

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