Inside Drenth: A Look at What Made a Fallen Cop Tick

Second of two parts. Read Part One: The Curious Death of Sergeant Sean Drenth

Heston Silbert stepped to the pulpit and got straight to the point.

Sean and Colleen Drenth were high school sweethearts who got married in 1997.
Courtesy of Colleen Drenth
Sean and Colleen Drenth were high school sweethearts who got married in 1997.

The veteran Phoenix police lieutenant had rehearsed his eulogy for Sergeant Sean Drenth to himself a dozen times and didn't want emotions to overwhelm him.

"I was eulogizing a hardcore cop who practically everybody thought had been murdered," says Silbert, now an assistant chief with the Mesa Police Department.

"He was one of our most-loved cops, the Ferris Bueller of the Phoenix Police Department. No one knew how to grieve at that point because everything was such a mystery. But I wanted to do right by him."

Drenth's violent death a few days earlier, October 18, 2010, had stunned and saddened his police agency and the community. Cops die in the line of duty all too often (174 nationally in 2011) in situations that usually are explainable.

But how the 34-year-old sergeant died — a contact blast from his own shotgun that entered beneath his chin and tore through his head in a quiet alley west of downtown Phoenix — left everyone grasping for answers.

Heston Silbert was wrong about one thing: Many inside the Phoenix Police Department had been whispering from the start that it surely was a suicide.

No way in hell, they were saying, would Drenth have gotten himself into such a predicament (see part one of this series), shot dead with his own weapon by someone next to his patrol car.

Others, especially those who knew Drenth as an officer and as a person, stood firm. They thoroughly were, and are, convinced that the 13-year Phoenix PD veteran was the victim of a homicide probably perpetrated by individuals he knew well enough to let down his guard.

Those who packed into Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria stared up at Silbert, an imposing ex-college football player who worked Phoenix's streets for years as a supervisor of the Special Assignments Unit (the SWAT team).

Silbert was known as the ultimate "street monster" — usually a term of endearment, and in turn he embraced kindred spirits such as the scrappy Drenth, whom he respected for having a similar "warrior mentality."

The vibe inside the church was dense with nuance and layered histories:

Sergeant Drenth's widow, Colleen, was surrounded by family, including his mother, Diane, with whom she had stayed since getting the terrible news.

She and Sean had been inseparable since their days at Glendale's Ironwood High. Though irreverent much of the time, the couple were deeply loyal to what counted most to them — family, friends, jobs, their dogs, and each other.

Drenth's lifelong friend, Tom Kilstrom, embraced the irony of the moment. He knew the flag-draped casket sitting in front of him was empty — the sergeant was cremated — and that his pal would have found the exercise absurd.

"Sean would have called that church the 'Cult of the Valley,'" Kilstrom said later. "Not exactly religious. He'd have hated the music, especially the Bon Jovi. But nothing would have pissed him off more than getting killed with his own gun by people he had to have known."

Also in attendance that day was George Contreras, the ex-Phoenix PD officer and friend of Drenth's who had been ubiquitous on news shows in the preceding days. Contreras' connection to Drenth in an off-duty money scandal had yet to be publicly revealed, but he was one of the last people Colleen Drenth wanted to see there.

She reviled the ex-cop turned guitar-shop owner because of his key role in the mini-scandal, which already had caused the Drenths tax woes and (though Colleen says she yet didn't know it) was about to escalate with a criminal indictment against her husband.

Contreras had infuriated Colleen by telling reporters that Sean would be alive had he been at a band rehearsal with him that night instead of patrolling. (Contreras, two Phoenix PD cops, and another man allegedly were just finishing a rehearsal for an upcoming show at Cooper'stown as Drenth died miles away. But Colleen knew her husband hadn't played music with Contreras for years.)

Heston Silbert's speech began with the usual fare, about police work having been a mission for Sean Drenth, not just a job. But Silbert then did something, he tells New Times, "to demonstrate that Sean was a cop's cop who also had the most twisted sense of humor around."

Hours before he died, Silbert said, a typically upbeat Sean Drenth had handed him a present.

Silbert reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet, and showed it to the audience.

Stitched into one side were the words "Bad Mother Fucker," a tribute to the Samuel L. Jackson character in the movie Pulp Fiction.

Without saying the expletive aloud, Silbert let the churchgoers know what it said on the wallet — "Bad MFer."

Many in attendance were visibly appalled by the breach of protocol.

Then-Phoenix public safety manager (Police Chief) Jack Harris, who earlier had spoken eloquently about the loss, looked — as another cop described it — as if he wanted to vomit.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

In May of 2009 I had been charged with misdemeanor assault arizing out of a DV incident. I was handcuffed and in police custody at the Squaw Peak Police Substation when I was attacked by 4 officers. Sean Drenth was present and like every other officer in the precinct that night failed to request medical care and even more the officers failed to mention anything about it in their reports. I was struck in the face, knocked unconscious and transported to 4th ave jail in that condition. I recieved absolutely no medical care until the next day when a nurse at the jail called me an ambulance. I have all the records and reports needed to show this happened. Out of fear I kept this incident to myself. I am a rather small female and was frequently harrassed by this group of officers. Again in Feburary 2010 I am arrested for the same bs and taken to the Squaw Peak station with Sgt. Drenth the acting supervisor. Again with my hands cuffed behind my back I was pushed to the floor by my arresting officer in plain view of other officers resulting in a gash to my eye and several broken teeth. To justify the excessive use of force I was charged with assaulting an officer and spent a month in jail. The charged was dismissed. I hired a civil attorney the second time. The two assaults have as far as I know only have two officers in common, Sgt. Drenth and Officer Ryan Murphy. Officer Murphy is mentioned in this article as being the only one who would speak out in favor of a suicide theory. He was one of the officers who beat me unconscious in May and he was my arresting officer in Feburary who pushed me face first to the cement floor of the precinct and charged me with felony assault. All this was fine with Sgt. Drenth who was a rather crappy babysitter to his young officers and indiferent to their conduct. My civil attorney was hired one month before Sgt. Drenth was found dead and about the same time he and Murphy were transfered to South Mountain. The civil attorney backed out of the case shortly before the statutes ran out and after Drenth was found dead (he took my case on contingency) saying it would cost to much for him and it was to risky because of my DV arrests.


Buh bye Drenth,  you suck started your shotgun and will not be missed. One down of many..just like the pigs Murphy, Figeroa, and Erfle. You punks won't be missed.


I have now read both parts to this sad saga.  Nowhere did it mention whether there was gunshot residue on Drenth's hands, or anywhere on his body to indicate where the shotgun was when it was fired.   I am not a homicide detective, but those two issues jumped at me.

Cops rarely commit suicide on duty. It is a slam to the department, in addition to the pain dumped on family.  I sure would like to know what the GSR tests showed.


@civilwrongs My friend has a very similar experience as you have described with Officer Ryan Murphy. What Goes Around Comes Around, Doesn't It?  I was cheering the day I read that Officer Drenth was found dead. I don't give a flying F if it was suicide or homicide. I'm just over-joyed  he's in hell.  Bless you my dear friend and survivor - CivilWrongs and that no good attorney you hired will meet his fate too. De Jure Sanjuinis Coronae!


The officers who would have been named in the complaint had it been filed are Ryan Murphy, Joel Zemaintis, Earl Erickson, Chad Moreth ( add perjury for him ) a few others I can't think of the names off hand however I never toss out any documents so I have a file collecting dust at home. One other officer who is bacteria on snail scrodum is Officer Brian Webster who's hatred for women was obvious. I looked him up in Maricopa Superior Family Court case info and it looks like his x wife has been making him her bitch for a long time now. I remember a small news blurb about officers at squaw peak having a little steroid issue during this time frame...hmmm.

Phoenix Concert Tickets