A team of undercover police officers faced a daunting task in August 2006 when they were assigned to spy on two Mesa men who had become the prime suspects in the Serial Shooters killing spree.
The team of at least five detectives was told to secretly follow and track suspects Dale Hausner and Samuel Dieteman without attracting attention to themselves.
Above all, they needed to make sure the suspects didn’t strike again.
But that mission became almost immediately dire and impossible on the first night, as the pair cruised the East Valley — presumably looking for a new target — with the undercover officers nearly powerless to intervene, according to several detectives who testified Monday in the ongoing eight-count murder trial against Dale Hausner.
In the depths of night, the team, riding in multiple unmarked cars and taking turns trailing the men, watched as Hausner and Dieteman slowed numerous times as they approached people walking alone on Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert streets.
Sometimes the Toyota Camry, driven by Hausner, would make U-turns and come back up on the pedestrians, the detectives testified.
Phoenix police Detective Bryan Benson watched the car slow at least three times as it approached lone walkers or bicyclists in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 2.
“We were just sick,” Benson testified in Maricopa County Superior Court.
It was the same ritual investigators believed the Serial Shooters had carried out each time they shot a victim in the 14 months prior.
The problem was that the detectives didn’t have enough information yet to arrest the two men. They didn’t see them commit a crime, and they didn’t have any proof the men were even the right suspects.
The team could only follow and watch.
The situation made Benson so anxious that he had to act, prompting him to do some things undercover officers “never do,” he testified.
First, he put on his bulletproof vest and pulled out his gun, and then his backup gun.
“We were ready to go if anything needed to happen,” Benson testified.
Then, when Benson came across pedestrians or bicyclists and was out of earshot from Hausner and Dieteman, he would try to warn the potential targets away from the area.
“I’m rolling down the window, and yelling, ‘Get out of here!’ ” Benson said. “Yelling, ‘Go! Run away!’ ”
“They probably looked at me like I was crazy, but ... ” he said, his voice trailing off.
Benson’s testimony, along with that of the other detectives, showed for the first time just how dramatic the investigation into Hausner and Dieteman became.
In all, the team of undercover detectives spent eight hours or more that night following the two men.
They never saw a gun, but the detectives had reason to believe the men had one.
At a point earlier in the evening, another Phoenix detective, Joseph Campisano, watched the Mesa men milling around the parking lot of the Wild Horse Pass Casino, just south of the Valley.
Campisano saw the two men chatting for a few minutes before they pulled a medium-sized duffel bag out of the trunk and placed it in the back seat of the car, he testified.
They then got in the car and started their seemingly random trek through the East Valley.
“It was odd,” Campisano said. “They were going through business districts that were closed, residential neighborhoods, doing U-turns.”
Thinking a weapon of some sort must have been in the duffel bag, Campisano said, “I felt horrible.”
Eventually, Hausner and Dieteman made their way back to an apartment near McKellips Road and Mesa Drive and settled in for some rest.
Authorities moved in two days later, on Aug. 4, and arrested the men at the apartment.
Hausner is on trial, charged with 87 crimes and suspected of having the lead role in the shooting spree that kept the Valley on edge for more than a year.
Dieteman has since pleaded guilty to two murders and agreed to testify against Hausner during the marathon trial.
The detectives testified Monday under a court order that blocked media from showing their faces or identifying them in any way other than by name.