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Our mission is Legal Investigations and Expert Consultations of Personal Injury, Negligence & Death for Civil, Criminal and Probate pre- and active litigation for Attorneys; and assisting Professional Investigators; and helping Families with the unexpected and questioned death of a loved one.
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Death of a law enforcement officer has community repercussions. Denial of spouse survivor benefits - including life insurance, agency, state, and federal benefits compounds the tragedy and trauma and is an injustice!
This death is now 10 years old and reached its final resolution - all in favor of the surviving spouse.
(As with all expert consultations - this was a joint consultation by the agency principals)
Suspicious Death - Independent Investigation (Expert Consultation) - Updated 06/10/2013, 08/12/2017 and 10/02/2020
Our agency was retained by a private investigator on behalf of the decedent’s family. The decedent, a law enforcement officer, was found by officers of an overlapping jurisdiction. The official investigation was conducted by the decedent’s employing agency, who had jurisdiction. Extensive photographs, records and reports were provided for review, including multiple re-enactment videos and photographs from experts retained by the law enforcement agency and family.
Review of the provided photographs, records and reports provided several concerns, beginning with the perfect and symmetrical position in which the decedent was found (supine) with his shotgun. The decedent had one injury, which was immediately fatal, as a result of a contact penetrating shotgun slug wound entering under the chin and traversing to exit the top of the head. There were multiple discernible wounds unanswered by the conclusion of suicide. Specifically, in the act of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, there is no plausible explanation for the injuries and pressure patterns to the respective dorsal and palmar surfaces of both hands. Moreover, the decedent’s uniform had indications of being involved in a physical altercation and on the ground prior to death.
Personal effects and items from his utility belt were strewn about the decedent, almost circular and at varying distances. His duty weapon was found several yards from him, over a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. His backup weapon, on an ankle, was removed.
Investigation determined that the shotgun was not in a final resting position consistent with having been discharged by the decedent, in any conceivable position of the decedent, and then coming to rest as found. The angle of the entrance wound, and wound path, are inconsistent with the decedent lying on the ground and his head also resting on the ground, and particularly without any consequential projectile defect to the underlying pavement.
The possibility that the decedent staged his own death as a suicide as a homicide was considered. However, the physical evidence did not support this in even the most minimal possibility.
The expert reconstruction, conducted by a former employee of the investigating agency, only concentrated on the final resting position of the decedent. This was deficient and inconclusive based upon the physical evidence. Factors that were not considered in the whole included the position of the decedent at discharge, angle of the shotgun at discharge, and angle of the decedent’s head at discharge. Each possibility presented in this reconstruction was unfounded upon further study and evaluation.
It was determined that the official investigation was insufficient in the investigation of the manner of death. It was further concluded that the scene, specifically placement of the shotgun on the decedent, was staged. It is also concluded that the decedent was standing, or less likely kneeling or crouching, with the muzzle of the shotgun pressed against the underside of his chin, the shotgun being held by another unknown person, and discharged by the unknown person. The finding of suicide by self-inflicted extraoral gunshot wound is inconsistent and not plausible based upon the documented information, facts and evidence reviewed. Investigation reveals that this incident presents concern of homicide concurrent with a mutual physical confrontation.
This agency recommended that the Cause of Death remains extraoral contact gunshot wound. The Manner of Death be amended to Homicide.
UPDATE 11/08/2012 and 11/15/2012 - this case has been published by investigative reporter, now private investigator, Paul Rubin:
Sean Drenth was police officer with Phoenix AZ police department. He was found with a single fatal shotgun wound under his chin. It was ruled a suicide after a long wait for the family, and an investigation that did not answer many questions - and added more.
AFI-LLC is one of many resources working this case. We are hoping there is justice and closure for the family. It is a story worth reading (Part 1) - http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2012-11-08/news/the-curious-case-of-sergeant-sean-drenth
If you read Part 1 of the death of Sean Drenth, a Phoenix police officer found dead under suspicious circumstances, here is Part 2 - http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2012-11-15/news/who-was-phoenix-police-sergeant-sean-drenth
UPDATE 06/10/2013 - in the months following the above newspaper stories, the medical examiner's officer continued to refuse further review and the case was submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI concurred with the ruling of suicide, based on a psychological profile. Recently the matter was presented by the widow's attorney before the Phoenix Retirement Program, which held off hearing the appeal for nine months. Jackie Temple, the city’s interim Retirement Program administrator, said the report was persuasive to members of the board. “They presented pretty strong evidence as to why they saw that it could not be suicide,”. The decision by the board was unanimous, with one abstaining vote. Here is the recent story, http://azc.cc/A1kis
His death remains closed, as suicide, by the Phoenix Police Department.
UPDATE 08/12/2017 - in May of 2015 our agency was informed an insurance company was litigating this case to deny life insurance policy claims. As a result, this case study was removed pending litigation. Under subpoena, our expert files were turned over to opposing counsel, as required under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. From May 2015 to August 2017, our agency received no further communication. On 08/12/2017 we were notified by our attorney-client, representing Sgt. Drenth's widow, of closure in the form of law enforcement widow's pension from the City of Phoenix, collection of all life insurance policies, and having Sgt. Drenth's name added to the Phoenix Police Department Fallen Officers Memorial Wall - without any further litigation.
UPDATE 09/01/2020 - the summer of 2019 we were asked to provide an updated report specific for an appeal to the Department of Justice Public Safety Officer Benefits Board. In conjunction with other team investigators and experts, our report was included with the appeal. This resulted in the award of full widow survivor benefits on 08/30/2020.
AFI-LLC is proud to have been part of this important investigation for the family - to the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe the truth. We feel this standard has been met. Our agency played a small role, and we recognize the primary investigator, family attorney, and other forensic experts that provided a team effort to reach this outcome for the family. A special thanks to the attorney and primary investigator - Joel Robbins and Jon Colvin, CLI
Department of Justice - Public Safety Officer Benefits Appeal Finding Report 08/31/2020 (received 09/04/2020)
Claimant retained a licensed and board certified legal investigator to respond to the forensic consultant’s report. In his Medicolegal Death Investigator’s Review and Findings, dated May 7, 2019, Dean Beers asserted the following:
Dean Beers, a board certified legal investigator, was retained by Claimant to provide an opinion concerning the manner of death of Sergeant Drenth. After reviewing the medical examiner’s report, autopsy and scene photos and the reconstruction packet of Criminalist Lucien Haag, among other things, Mr. Beers opined that the finding of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound was “inconsistent and not plausible based upon the documented information, facts and evidence reviewed.” Mr. Beers’ opinion was based in part on the following:
Mr. Beers ultimately concluded that the scene, specifically placement of the shotgun on the decedent, was staged and that Sergeant Drenth was standing, kneeling or crouching when the shotgun was discharged by an unknown person.
Claimant also procured the services of former Phoenix Police Department homicide detective, Jim Raines, and private investigator Jonathan Colvin to assess the manner of Sergeant Drenth’s death. Mr. Raines and Mr. Colvin performed extensive firearms testing to reconstruct the scene of Sergeant Drenth’s death and determine the angle of the shotgun as well as the trajectory of the projectile and the relative wad at the time of the fatal shot. Based on their testing, they concluded that Sergeant Drenth was standing at the time that he was shot because (1) the wad’s placement at the scene indicates that it “had to go up in the air and then come back down to shorten its linear travel distance.”
Private Investigator Colvin, specifically concluded that
In a report dated April 4, 2019, Private Investigator Jonathan Colvin also highlighted the placement of Sergeant Drenth’s teeth as evidence that he was not lying down when shot on October 18, 2010. Per Mr. Colvin, Phoenix Police Department Report DR Number 2010 01489312 noted evidence that they found at the scene of Sergeant Drenth’s death, including “teeth with apparent blood on it; found in the pool of apparent blood, under the victim.” According to Mr. Colvin’s report, this finding was also depicted in one of the photos taken by Phoenix Police Department investigators. Based on this evidence, Mr. Colvin posited the following:
Mr. Raines and Mr. Colvin determined that Sergeant Drenth was standing when he was fatally injured, because of the distance traveled by the wad, the estimated distance traveled by the slug, and the placement of the teeth under Sergeant Drenth’s body, among other things. Their supposition supports the expert opinions of Michelle Hoffman and Dean Beers and the opinion that Sergeant Drenth’s death could not have been the result of suicide. Specifically, if Sergeant Drenth was standing when he was shot, his body would have collapsed vertically and the shotgun would have recoiled. As such, his body would not have naturally fallen into the position that it was found (i.e. legs straight, arms bent and hands resting on the torso) and the shotgun would not have been found resting on his chest. Based on these findings, Claimant’s experts posit that Sergeant Drenth could not have shot himself.