Blue Crush

To outsiders, the Phoenix Police Department's Special Assignments Unit is meant to be an overwhelming show of force. The inside story is much more powerful.

Kilgore says he really doesn't remember the shooting, it happened so fast, so there was no real psychological trauma to recover from. "It was like somebody coming up behind you and hitting you in the back of the head. I didn't even see it," he says.

Earlier this year, Phoenix police brought Miguel Savala, the man they say did the shooting, back from Mexico where he'd fled. He told detectives that he didn't know the two men who'd come to his apartment door were police officers. He thought they'd been sent by a guy he'd tried to shoot for messing around with his girlfriend, according to a police report that summarizes an interview with Savala.

His trial has been set for July 22.

Officers returning from a search warrant carry the main tools used by the SAU: a heavy battering ram, a large steel pry bar and a shield to protect the entry team against gunfire.
Officers returning from a search warrant carry the main tools used by the SAU: a heavy battering ram, a large steel pry bar and a shield to protect the entry team against gunfire.


Photography by Jackie Mercandetti

The guy who shot Dave Haas won't be going to trial. On the day before Easter 2001, he was killed by Haas and another SAU officer, Bill Underwood, moments after shooting Haas in the stomach.

Haas, now 35, was back on light duty in six weeks, full SAU duty in eight.

"I was a little jittery at first," he concedes. "I paid way more attention to my surroundings for a bit. It put me back in that mode where you're super-duper cautious."

Haas had been on SAU less than a year when he and Underwood tracked a bank robbery suspect, Chris Zetterlof, to the Embassy Suites at 44th Street and McDowell. They had not put on body armor because they didn't want to tip off Zetterlof, he says.

They bumped into the suspect just as he was coming out of his door. The cops chatted with him about the vending machines as if they were paying guests, then went into their own room, next door. Moments later, Zetterlof left his room, wearing shorts and an unbuttoned shirt. He stopped at the balcony railing and leaned over, his back to the officers who were peeking out their window.

Downstairs, some kind of college fraternity formal dance was in progress. There were kids in tuxedos and party dresses everywhere, Haas recalls.

"So we decide we can't let him go downstairs because we might have a potential hostage situation."

They could see a sandwich in his left hand. But they couldn't see his right hand. "Our plan is to sneak out and grab him."

As it turns out, that didn't work so well. As soon as Underwood told him they were police officers, Zetterlof spun around. That right hand held a gun.

"I am like nose to nose with the guy when I see the gun, so I grab it with both hands," Haas says. Zetterlof pulled the trigger at pointblank range and Haas took a bullet in the stomach.

"It just felt like I got burned. It was not like I figured getting shot would be."

By this time, Underwood, who'd been on SAU about five years, had fired a round or two at Zetterlof, but his gun malfunctioned. Zetterlof turned to shoot Underwood, and Haas got off five shots at the suspect.

"He turned to shoot me. I turned and fell. You know how panicky you get. I crawled away looking for the door but I couldn't find it.

"Bill gets his gun working and shoots three more times, one in the chest."

And that was it for Chris Zetterlof. An internal affairs report on the shooting notes that he was hit nine times and died at the scene. Underwood fired six rounds, Haas five.

Haas went to the hospital. Today he has an eight-inch scar that he doesn't reveal but says extends from his navel to "my lower unit."

Haas has been on the department for 13 years and spent time on patrol as well as in detectives. He wanted to come to the SAU because he felt like "I'd gotten out of touch with what it's like to be a cop."

He took the SAU test five times before he finally made it. Now he's a sniper. "As far as the job goes, it's a blast," he says.

The pain of an abdominal gunshot wound seems to have truly faded into the past.

They'll tell you their work is actually safer than other police jobs, certainly more so than patrol. Usually, they've had time to plan an operation, they wear more protection and carry more tools. There are usually at least eight of them, working together, just like they've done hundreds of times.

"We know what we're getting involved in most of the time," says Fred Spitler.

On May 13, at about 9:45 a.m., the SAU responds to a police shooting at the Wellesley Inn Suites, just off I-17 at Peoria Avenue. Patrol officers had been tracking a guy who they believed had shot another guy a few weeks before.

Patrol found the man, Eric Jones, at the motel and had already called for the SAU's help to take him into custody when Jones left the room and began walking toward his car. When patrol officers approached him, they say, he pulled a .357 Magnum revolver from his pants and pointed it at them. Two of the six patrol cops fired, hitting him in the lower legs. Jones fired back and managed to crawl back into the room, where his girlfriend was still inside.

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