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Charges to be dropped against Jerry Sanstead in death of Officer Clayton Townsend

Officer Clayton Townsend
Posted at 3:04 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 21:50:55-04

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO) announced Friday that it will be dismissing the charges filed against the driver who caused a crash that killed police officer Clayton Townsend.

In January 2019, Salt River Police Department Officer Clayton Townsend was killed when he was struck during a traffic stop along Loop 101 in the Scottsdale area.

“On Jan. 8, 2019, a tragedy occurred. Officer Clayton Townsend, 26, of the Salt River Police Department, was killed while doing his job conducting a traffic stop along the Loop 101. He had served with the department for five years and made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his community. He left behind a wife and a 10-month old son,” said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel.

In November 2020, Jerry Sanstead was indicted on a manslaughter charge after police claimed he had been distracted by his phone while driving, causing the crash that killed officer Townsend.

Earlier this month, 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 reportedly been in sleep mode for nearly two minutes prior to impact.

“This office sought charges based on the evidence we had at that time. However, over the life a case, information sometimes becomes available that impacts our ability to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, two new crucial pieces of evidence came to light after the presentation to the grand jury. One will make a key witness unavailable for trial making it impossible to prove Mr. Sanstead’s distraction close to the time of the crash and the second is a medical opinion that offers a non-criminal explanation for the crash.”

Sanstead reportedly 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.

MCAO said they consulted with another expert on the new theory, deciding "...that there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction in the present case, and for that reason dismissal is appropriate and just."

“I want the community to know that we do not take decisions of this nature lightly. The loss of life that night will be felt by Officer Townsend’s family and friends as well as the entire law enforcement community and the local community he served forever. Officer Townsend gave his life in service to his community and should never be forgotten," County Attorney Adel said.