June 25, 2021 (Phoenix, AZ) – The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) has filed a Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice in the case against Jerry Sanstead, the driver who killed Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend. (CR2020-002249-001)
On Nov. 17, 2020, based on the evidence from the crash investigation, MCAO presented a case to a grand jury. While the evidence showed that Mr. Sanstead was not texting at the moment of the crash, it showed he had been distracted by his phone while driving, and his decision not to focus on driving was the only reasonable explanation as to why he caused the crash that killed Officer Townsend. The grand jury returned an indictment of Manslaughter, a Class 2 Felony.
“On Jan. 8, 2019, a tragedy occurred. Officer Clayton Townsend, 26, of the Salt River Police Department, was killed while doing his job conducting a traffic stop along the Loop 101. He had served with the department for five years and made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his community. He left behind a wife and a 10-month old son,” stated County Attorney Allister Adel.
“This office sought charges based on the evidence we had at that time. However, over the life a case, information sometimes becomes available that impacts our ability to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, two new crucial pieces of evidence came to light after the presentation to the grand jury. One will make a key witness unavailable for trial making it impossible to prove Mr. Sanstead’s distraction close to the time of the crash and the second is a medical opinion that offers a non-criminal explanation for the crash.”
Regarding the new explanation for the crash, in March, the defense presented an expert medical opinion that opines that a seizure is the likely cause of the crash. MCAO retained and consulted another expert in this area and, considering both opinions, we have concluded that this new theory would likely raise reasonable doubts as to whether the cause of this crash was the result of criminal conduct. Considering all the facts we now know, MCAO concludes that there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction in the present case, and for that reason dismissal is appropriate and just.
County Attorney Adel also stated, “I want the community to know that we do not take decisions of this nature lightly. The loss of life that night will be felt by Officer Townsend’s family and friends as well as the entire law enforcement community and the local community he served forever. Officer Townsend gave his life in service to his community and should never be forgotten.”