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Phone records prompt defense in Officer Townsend's death to request case be sent back to jury

Officer Clayton Townsend
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 22:11:33-04

PHOENIX — Jerry Sanstead is the poster boy for the Arizona law making it illegal to text while driving. Sanstead was behind the wheel when he swerved across several lanes of traffic on the Loop 101, striking and killing Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend in January 2019. The DPS report said Sanstead was texting his wife at the time of the accident.

Officer Townsend’s death was the final straw in a years-long battle at the legislature to make texting while driving illegal. In April 2019, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill making texting while driving illegal. “We can make this law a tool and make it work to help save lives,” House Speaker Rusty Bowers said at the time.

But in a Maricopa County Courtroom Tuesday, defense attorney Lawrence Kazan asked Judge Roy C. Whitehead to send the case back to the grand jury because phone records indicate Sanstead was not texting at the time of the crash. His phone had been in sleep mode for nearly two minutes prior to impact. A fact Kazan believes prosecutors kept from the grand jury. “In their zealous attempt to get an indictment in this case, it’s pretty obvious they played fast and loose with the evidence they were presenting to the grand jury,” Kazan said.

Sanstead suffered a seizure at the jail after he was arrested. Kazan thinks Sanstead may have suffered one earlier when he lost control of his vehicle and hit the officer. But Deputy County Attorney Edward Paine told Judge Whitehead there was no attempt to dupe the grand jury. Paine said jurors were given a timeline of Sanstead’s trip which showed when he was on the phone and texting and when he was not.

“The state made it crystal clear in that presentation. The evidence did not show the cellphone was not being used at the exact moment of impact. That has never been the argument put forward by the state,” Paine said. “The state did not mislead the grand jury by saying at the time of impact he was on his phone.”

Sanstead is charged with manslaughter and he is currently free on bond. The judge gave no indication of when he may rule on the defense request to send the case back to the grand jury.