On April 18, 2013, Judge Susan R. Bolton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona dismissed a lawsuit filed by three Phoenix officers who refused to voluntarily submit DNA in connection with the death of Phoenix Police Sgt. Sean Drenth that occurred on October 18, 2010. The involved officers who were members of the police department’s K-9 and Special Assignments Unit (SWAT), responded to assist the investigation in a support capacity after Drenth had been discovered by other police officers.
On the night of Sgt. Drenth’s untimely death, none of the three officers were in direct contact with him, his weapons, or his vehicle. They instead assisted in conducting searches of surrouding areas. Judicial Watch out of Washington, D.C. agreed to represent the involved officers who were ultimately compelled by court order to provide DNA samples against their will. At issue was collecting DNA from law enforcement officials that would be permanently placed in the FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) data base, a search without probable cause, and or a search warrant.
All three had previously agreed to provide DNA if the department would agree to keep their DNA samples out of CODIS. The department not only refused but then set about the process of obtaining court orders to compel the officers to provide their DNA all the while agreeing that none of them were suspects. This raises the question: If none of the three were suspects why was a detention order used instead of a search warrant to obtain their DNA? In a part of her decision, Judge Bolton wrote: “…the Court is not convinced that under either Arizona statute or the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Plaintiffs had to be suspected of comitting the crime in order to be searched without a warrant.” In another part of the ruling, Judge Bolton states: “While it is undisputed that Plaintiffs were not suspects in Sergeant Drenth’s death, this does not mean that the searches of Plaintiffs’ DNA were ‘suspicionless’ in the traditional sense.”
The following questions must be pondered: If the officers DNA matched the unknown DNA at the Crime scene, were investigators any closer in determining who the suspect was? No. If the officers DNA didn’t match the unknown DNA at the crime scene, were the investigators any closer to finding the suspect? No. It appears, based on the Judge’s ruling, that anyone can be searched without a warrant to exclude them from a crime – translation: anyone can be searched, and not even be suspected of a crime based solely on mere “connection.”
Therefore, under Judge Boltons mindset, if your neighbor’s house is burglarized while you are out of town fishing, the police, knowing you have a valid alibi, and knowing you have been inside the neighbor’s house in the past, have every right to demand your DNA using a detention order simply because they wish to exclude you as a suspect. Sadly, the City of Phoenix is in agreement with promoting this bad law.
A quick brushup on the Fourth Amendment reminds us of the following:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Police management misused a detention order because they did not have probable cause to obtain a search warrant. Based on the ruling, it appears that Judge Bolton is giving police managers a free pass at the expense of the Constitutional rights of first responders. Citizens get in line, because you’ll be next.
It should be noted that the involved officers were suing for the sum of one dollar and the case will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
CLICK HERE to read the press release from Judicial Watch.
CLICK HERE to read the order from Judge Bolton granting the motion to dismiss.