But the Drenth clan burst into laughter.

"Sean would have loved it," Colleen Drenth said later. "Whoever was offended was offended by Sean because that's who he was."

Silbert finished by spelling out an acronym whose definition would symbolize the complexity that has continued to mark this maddening case:

The Drenths
Courtesy of the Drenth Family
The Drenths
Drenth is flanked by his mother, Diane, and wife Colleen after winning the Phoenix Police Department's Medal of Valor.
Courtesy of the Drenth Family
Drenth is flanked by his mother, Diane, and wife Colleen after winning the Phoenix Police Department's Medal of Valor.

SDMF.

The letters were Sergeant Drenth's calling card.

Silbert later suggested the acronym was a term of endearment that stood for "Sean Drenth My Friend."

But others knew what SDMF really meant.

Two of the meanings were the creation of the Black Label Society, a heavy-metal band from Los Angeles. The sergeant adored the band and its mottos: "Strength Determination Merciless Forever" and "Society Dwelling Mother Fucker."

The third was somewhat more obvious: "Sean Drenth Mother Fucker."


Even before Sean Drenth died, these were the worst of times for the Phoenix PD.

A few weeks earlier, Officer Richard Chrisman had been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed South Phoenix man during a domestic-violence call.

The key eyewitness against Chrisman was a fellow cop whose crossing of the so-called "thin blue line" had deeply polarized officers who considered the arrest of one of their own outrageous and those who didn't.

Tensions were high inside the agency, especially at the South Mountain Precinct, where Chrisman spent his career and where Sean Drenth was transferred shortly before he died.

(The Chrisman murder case has yet to be resolved in court.)

In a broader scope, Drenth's death exposed the schism between a command staff headed by Harris and a highly politicized police union.

The divisiveness ran so deep that several cops refused, on the advice of their union bosses, to cooperate with investigators in the Drenth case by providing DNA samples or submitting to interviews until forced by court order.

Layered atop the dysfunction at the Phoenix PD was the undisputed fact that panicky cops had "compromised" the crime scene and no potential murder suspects were emerging other than possibly George Contreras, the ringleader of the off-duty scandal.

Some officers at the scene later expressed outrage when discussion among the troops centered on suicide.

"It completely, absolutely pissed me off," says Officer Jed Fisher, Drenth's patrol partner earlier in their careers.

"You'd have to show me a note that got signed under duress to prove to me that Sean committed suicide. I was thinking out there, 'It's almost like he knew the person [who killed him] and whoever took him on knew what the hell they were doing.' I like being a cop — Sean loved being a cop. I want to know who did this."

Heston Silbert hit on something when he spoke about his fellow cops not knowing how to grieve.

"Sean was the single most dedicated, passionate cop I ever worked with in my 19-year career. He was a stellar human being," Phoenix PD Detective John Hobbs wrote after Drenth's death. "The theory of [the off-duty] 'scandal' being a motive for a suicide is silly. Any of us who were close to him knew he was not stressed about it, nor ashamed. Of the officers still on the department, all were cleared of wrongdoing.

"There are other theories that abound, such as his ties to dirty cops or former cops having something to do with his demise. In the end, it's all conjecture based on mere hunch. Assuming it's a suicide, when the possibility exists of a cop-killing murderer lurking undetected, is truly wrong."

One officer told a detective that "the streets will eventually talk" about what happened to Sergeant Drenth.

But they haven't.

At best, the extraordinarily strange crime scene told conflicting stories, including a shotgun shell from Drenth's own weapon that entered just under his chin (suggesting suicide), concurrent evidence of a struggle of some magnitude (suggesting murder), and the improbable manner in which the shotgun laid perfectly on Drenth's body (suggesting someone placed it there).

Warren Brewer, the Phoenix PD detective who led the investigation, tells New Times that he's awakened untold times in the middle of the night trying to make sense of the incomprehensible.

Brewer says he looked hard into Drenth's background, checking the state of his finances (they were sound), whether the sergeant had a girlfriend on the side (none could be identified), or how things were going at work (great).

The only known possible stress in the sergeant's life was the state of Arizona's ongoing criminal investigation involving about 30 Phoenix PD cops, including Drenth. A grand jury later indicted three officers and George Contreras, but only Contreras still faces charges.

It remains unsubstantiated whether Drenth knew an indictment against him would've been forthcoming, too, though odds are that he did.

"The only thing that came up later that could potentially lean [toward suicide] was the pending indictment," Brewer says. "Sean loved being a cop and all that. But he loved playing music, too, and it wouldn't be fair to say that being a cop was his whole world, because he had other interests."

"What makes this case so interesting," says forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt, "is the huge disconnect between the behavioral and physical evidence. Is that because the crime scene was tampered with, or is it because a person or persons are not telling us everything they know about Sean's behavior during the days and hours leading up to his death? I don't know. What I do know is that this story is like reading a book with two different covers and with two different endings. What I also know is that if the Phoenix Police Department ever wants to solve this case, they are going to have to go back and start from scratch."

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5 comments
civilwrongs
civilwrongs

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.

FuckthePPD
FuckthePPD

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.

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

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
civilwrongs

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.

 
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