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Day's family sues Phoenix police for $1.7 million

The sister of former child actor Dennis Day wants more than a million dollars from Phoenix police on accusations the department badly compromised her brother’s homicide investigation by overlooking Day’s body inside his own home for nine months and by missing key evidence and at one point even stepped on Day’s body.

Day’s sister Nelda Adkins of Coalinga, California, is suing the Phoenix Police Department and Phoenix Lt. Jeff Price as an individual for $1.7 million for negligence surrounding a multitude of alleged missteps that started prior to the missing persons investigation turned high-profile homicide case. Day was best known for his role in the 1950s as a founding member of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club.

Adkins, among other relatives of Day’s, allege that the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office was unable to bring murder charges against suspect Daniel James Burda, 37, who lived in the home as a handyman.

“As a result of (Price and the Phoenix police Department’s) negligence, the criminal case against Mr. Burda has been compromised,” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Medford. “State prosecutors did not bring charges of murder against Mr. Burda and lack critical physical evidence due to the delay in finding Mr. Day’s body, which was in such a badly decomposed state.”

Burda is currently scheduled to stand trial this August in Day’s death on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree abuse of a corpse, Jackson County Circuit Court records show, along with related charges of aggravated identity theft, second-degree theft and fraudulent use of a credit card surrounding alleged thefts from Day.

The family alleges Phoenix police were negligent because they failed to locate and notify Day’s next of kin, failed to adequately search Day’s Pine Street home, failed to turn over their investigation to Oregon State Police in a timely manner, stepped on Day’s body — causing post-mortal skeletal fractures — and failed to arrest Burda “despite substantial evidence of his involvement.”

Day’s family claims Phoenix Lt. Jeff Price falsely told the family that police had used cadaver dogs to search the premises “although they had not” and that he made false and careless statements to media — including Fox News — that police had “no leads” as to Day’s whereabouts and Burda’s alleged involvement.

Day was last seen alive July 15, 2018, and his body was found at his home April 4, 2019, according to earlier news reports.

In the weeks between Day’s last sighting and the formal missing persons report filed July 27, Phoenix officers told Burda to leave Day’s Pine Street home multiple times, specifically on July 18, 21, and 24, but never arrested him.

The family further alleges that during the July 21 encounter, police failed to arrest Burda despite displaying “battle wounds on his hands and forearms.”

Phoenix police searched Day’s home three times in July and August of 2018, according to the lawsuit.

“During one of those searches, officers stepped on Mr. Day’s deceased body, which was hidden under a pile of clothing, causing multiple post-mortal skeletal fractures,” the lawsuit states.

Police confiscated Day’s ATM card from Burda on Aug. 8, but did not arrest Burda as a suspect.

“For a period of nine months from Mr. Day’s disappearance,” (Phoenix police) failed to a arrest Mr. Burda in connection with Mr. Day’s disappearance despite substantial evidence that Mr. Burda was involved,” the lawsuit states.

It took six months after Day’s disappearance before Adkins and other family members learned of his disappearance. Day’s nephew in Roseburg saw a KOBI-TV news report about the search for Day and contacted Adkins, according to a story posted on Dateline NBC’s website in February of last year.

The family became active in the search for Day in January 2019, when they demanded Oregon State Police take over.

The handoff didn’t happen until April, when a Jackson County Search and Rescue cadaver dog found Day’s body in the home, prompting Phoenix police to activate Jackson County’s multi-agency Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, according to earlier news reports.

The remains were identified as Day’s on June 6 “based on circumstantial evidence” because the body was so badly decomposed, according to the lawsuit.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Daniel James Burda is charged with manslaughter in the death of founding Mickey Mouse Club member Dennis W. Day, who lived in Phoenix. Jackson County Jail booking photo
Photos of Dennis Day distributed by friends during the missing persons investigation.