On His Feet, On The Street

Less than two years after a sniper's bullet nearly tore off his leg, Detective Jeff Dauer is back on the Gang Squad, cruising Phoenix's toughest turf

As they pulled over a brown Monte Carlo at 19th Avenue and Hidalgo to converse with some suspected gang members, the officers were wary. A month earlier, a sniper had shot Officer Bill Martin in the arm near 19th Avenue and Southern. Another gunshot that night had narrowly missed another officer.

Word on the street was that the cops could expect more sniper attacks.
Dauer and Handy were in an unmarked Chevy Caprice, dressed in customary autumn garb--sweat shirts emblazoned with bright letters front and back that said "GANG SQUAD."

Handy asked the Monte Carlo's driver if he could snap a Polaroid of him, a typical Gang Squad procedure. The driver consented, and walked to the rear of the Caprice to pose. Dauer chatted easily a few feet away with one of the car's passengers.

All in all, it looked like a forgettable stop on a forgettable night.
Then, a shot rang out. Everyone dropped to the ground.
Handy heard a "high-pitched shattering sound," which he believed was a car window. Actually, it was his partner's left leg that had exploded.

Dauer was lying on his back in the street holding the leg, which was bleeding profusely. He wouldn't budge when Handy attempted to tug him to safety.

Handy says Dauer told him, "'Don't move me. My leg will fall off.' That was the point at which the seriousness of the injury struck me."

It still eats at Handy--now a sergeant--that he couldn't return fire, couldn't do more to protect his pal. What he did do, however, was heroic.

First, he summoned help with a 999 radio call, police code for "Officer down." Then, not knowing if he would be the sniper's next victim, Handy used his sweat shirt to make a tourniquet below Dauer's knee.

But the blood continued to seep onto the street. Working instinctively, Handy grabbed Dauer's mangled leg with both hands, straddled it with his own two knees and squeezed for dear life.

Dauer recalls: "I thought the leg was already detached, but doing the job was still going on in my mind. I'm talking back and forth with Rob, trying to set up a perimeter to get the shooter. I was trying to control my breathing--calm myself down. I remember seeing a big chunk of bone and thinking, 'Someone ought to do something with that.' Weird stuff. Then things started getting blurry."

An army of officers began to assemble. By then, Dauer was on the verge of unconsciousness and feeling less and less pain--a sign of shock. Handy helped lift Dauer onto a gurney, and Phoenix firefighters sped off to Good Sam.

A few blocks away, a resident who had heard all the sirens looked outside and saw a white sports car pull up and park across the street. No one got out of the vehicle, and the resident called 911 to report it.

As a Phoenix patrolman approached the car, it took off, with the police in close pursuit. Several blocks away, the driver abandoned the car and fled on foot. Gang Squad members soon found Benjamin Lloyd Johnson cowering in a shed, and arrested him.

In his car, investigators found a 30.06 hunting rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. Testing later uncovered Johnson's fingerprints on the scope.

Johnson confessed to nothing, saying only: "You guys talking about a shooting or something? I been shooting all day at the range with my brothers. I got five witnesses."

The Gang Squad knew Johnson well. He'd been known for years as a leader of the Lindo Park Crips, and long had expressed an antipathy toward police officers. In return, they stopped him often, mostly just to let him know they were around.

Two weeks earlier, Phoenix police had had a shootout with Johnson's cousin Melvin Robertson during a crack-cocaine-fueled clash in South Phoenix. Robertson, a Lindo Park Crip, wounded two officers and fatally shot a police dog before police shot and killed him.

During the hours-long stand-off, an officer who knew Johnson warned him to stay cool. Dauer, who was in training for the Gang Squad, stood by as the other cop conversed with Johnson. He recalls the moment as his lone contact with the man who shot him.

Within days after the shootout, the cops heard rumors that "Big Face" was talking about avenging his late cousin. At the time, he may have been feeling a bit invincible.

In 1992, Johnson had beaten raps in separate aggravated-assault cases--one by acquittal at trial and the other when prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss all charges. (A defense attorney in the earlier trial listed Charles Barkley as a "character" witness. Sir Charles wasn't called to testify, and his connection to Johnson, if any, is unknown.)

As November 1994 dragged past, detectives patched together a sound circumstantial case against Johnson.

Jeff Dauer, meanwhile, lay in a bed at Good Sam, wondering if he was going to lose his leg and, with it, his career as a street cop.

Doctors at first reckoned that Jeff Dauer's leg was beyond salvaging.
"I'm in the ER and I overhear a doc say, 'Let's prepare him for amputation,'" he says. "I told him, 'Don't take it, don't take it. Please. Give it a chance.' I was thinking about science and the things they might be able to do in five or ten years. I was thinking there was no way the department would let a one-legged guy back on the street."

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