PHOENIX -- A government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Phoenix police officers who were forced to give DNA samples during the investigation into the mysterious death of a fellow officer.
Judicial Watch announced the filing of its civil rights lawsuit Monday. It alleges that authorities forced the officers to surrender their DNA in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.
Officers Daniel Bill, Bryan Hanania, and Michael Malpass were among the first responders to the call the night Sgt. Sean Drenth was found fatally wounded near the state Capitol on Oct. 18, 2010.
Drenth evidently was killed by a blast from his shotgun, which was found resting on his chest with the muzzle pointing toward his chin. Medical investigators ruled last year that his death was believed to be a suicide.
Judicial Watch said the officers never came in contact with Drenth's body, the shotgun or his handgun and should not have been forced to provide DNA.
``Simply because officers swear their allegiance to uphold the law doesn't mean they surrender their rights to be protected under it,'' Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. ``The Fourth Amendment cannot be selectively applied by the city of Phoenix. Citizens have a right to be secure in their persons- and this includes their DNA.''
Sgt. Trent Crump, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said Monday he couldn't comment on the pending litigation.
More than 300 people- including then-Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, other police officers, firefighters and capitol police officers- converged on the area after Drenth was found, according to Judicial Watch.
A month later, the police department began asking for DNA samples from all officers at the crime scene for ``exclusionary purposes.'' Those who declined were sent a memo requesting immediate compliance.
At the time, police officials said the decision to request samples of genetic material from other officers and personnel on the scene of an emergency wasn't unusual.
According to the lawsuit, the investigative teams in which the three officers were included provided detailed reports as to their actions and whereabouts on the evening Drenth was found. However, the officers were detained under court order in August 2011 and DNA samples were taken.
The swabs were taken without obtaining search warrants and without probable cause, according to the lawsuit.