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Prosecutors seek dismissal of charge in officer’s death

June 25, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking the dismissal of a manslaughter charge in the death of a Salt River police officer after the accused man’s lawyer raised questions about whether his client was texting, as investigators had initially claimed, when he fatally struck the officer as he conducted a traffic stop on a freeway.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office said Friday that there is no reasonable likelihood of winning a manslaughter conviction against 42-year-old Jerry Sanstead in the January 2019 death of Officer Clayton Townsend.

Prosecutors were seeking a dismissal that would allow them the option of later filing a case against Sanstead.

Even though the evidence showed Sanstead wasn’t texting at the moment of the crash, prosecutors said the evidence showed he was distracted by his phone while driving.

In explaining their dismissal request, prosecutors said a witness who was needed to prove the distracted driving case will not be available for trial, and a medical opinion presented in Sanstead’s defense offers a non-criminal cause for the death.

Several months ago, Sanstead’s attorney Lawrence Kazan said data had established the screen on his client’s phone was off in the nearly two minutes before the collision and suggested his client may have been suffering from seizures, which the lawyer said would offer an explanation for why Sanstead was looking down and swerved abnormally into another vehicle.

Shortly after the crash, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Sanstead had acknowledged texting his wife about plans for the evening before the crash occurred. The Associated Press and other news organizations published that statement.

At the time of his death, Townsend was married and had a 10-month-old child. He served five years with the Salt River Police Department, an agency of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.