West Valley City • A suspect is dead and two police officers were seriously wounded after a standoff in a Taylorsville convenience store parking lot late Wednesday ended in a shootout.
This wasn’t the first time police have shot at Anei Gabriel Joker, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office confirmed Thursday. Law enforcement records show a teenage Joker was shot and wounded by Cottonwood Heights police in 2017.
According to West Valley City police, officers located 20-year-old Joker around 10 p.m. Wednesday at a 7-Eleven at 4110 S. Redwood Road, just inside Taylorsville City limits. They were looking for him in connection with a rape and robbery investigation.
Joker was inside his car with an infant, believed to be about 9 months old, and two other adults, police said.
“He would not exit the vehicle and he would not release the infant,” police spokeswoman Roxanne Vainuku said Thursday.
As officers negotiated with Joker, he agreed to allow them to retrieve the baby, WVCPD Chief Colleen Jacobs said. The baby was not harmed, according to Jacobs, who said it was her understanding that the two other adults — believed to the parents of the baby — got out of the vehicle when police arrived.
Once police took the baby, Joker remained inside the vehicle, police said.
Officers continued to talk with Joker before “pepper balls were projected into the vehicle in an attempt to encourage the suspect to come out,” Jacobs said. “After a period of time, he did come out of the vehicle firing a weapon.”
As many as 10 officers from multiple agencies returned fire, striking Joker several times, police said. He was taken to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, where he died.
The two wounded officers — a Unified Police detective and a West Valley City detective — also were taken to Intermountain Medical Center. The Unified Police detective, originally said to be in serious condition, was treated and released from the hospital. He has worked with UPD for nine years, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said in a statement.
“He is home resting,” UPD tweeted.
The West Valley City detective was in critical condition after being shot twice — once in the left shoulder and once in the left leg. He underwent surgery and is stable, police said. He has worked for WVCPD for nearly six years.
Jacobs said she was relieved to see that the detective was talking and joking when she visited him at the hospital. “It was a great relief to know that he was going to be OK.”
She said the police department’s licensed clinical social worker is available to help the officer and others. “Any time an officer or anyone else is involved in this kind of traumatic event, there’s going to be scars,” Jacobs said. “They’re going to be physical scars and there’s going to be mental scars.”
Rivera also said UPD had counseling resources available for officers who need them.
Vainuku said the officers “were aware that this suspect is a dangerous suspect,” adding that Joker “warranted being approached in such a manner.”
Previous police shooting
In 2017, Cottonwood Heights police officer Chris McHugh tried to pull a teenage Joker over.
Joker did not stop and instead tried to drive away on Interstate 15, reaching speeds as high as 100 mph, according to juvenile court records. A female passenger in the car later told police that Joker said he was going to run and told her, “Just be quiet and enjoy the ride.”
Joker crashed on an off-ramp and ran down it. Body camera footage shows that McHugh caught up with him beneath an overpass, then told Joker to “drop the gun,” sit down and roll over on his stomach.
The teen raised his hands in the air and then sat down and rolled over.
“I’m not moving,” he said, as he reached toward his waistband. McHugh’s body camera shifts focus as the officer yelled “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” and then fired.
While video footage doesn’t show that Joker had a gun, and McHugh told investigators he never saw one, McHugh said he saw the teen reach into a backpack, then saw a “box of bullets” fall out.
“[Joker’s] actions, combined with the box of bullets from the backpack caused him to believe [Joker] was either trying to ‘get that gun back out or trying to hide it,’” according to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
At the hospital where the teenager was being treated for a gunshot wound, someone found revolver hidden in the teen’s pants.
Utah nears police shooting record
In June, Joker pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, aggravated assault and a weapons charge and was on probation for those charges when he was shot Wednesday. His prison sentence was suspended after he wrote a letter of apology to the judge, vowing, “I learned my lesson.”
In the letter, he wrote that he’d had a rough life, spending part of his childhood in a homeless shelter. Joker also wrote that he was the father of two children — ages 5 and 1 — adding, “I want to become a better man for my kids, for myself.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Wednesday said that prosecutors had argued against probation.
“We argued that a prison sentence was appropriate due to the violent nature of the three crimes and additional aggravating factors,” Gill said in a statement.
Those factors included that Joker had caused “substantial injury to a victim,” that he had a gun while committing these crimes and had “exhibited pattern of aggressive/harmful behavior towards others,” Gill said.
Wednesday’s shooting remains under investigation. The officers who fired their weapons are on administrative leave. Anyone who witnessed the shooting is asked to call police at 801-840-4000.
It marked the 30th police shooting this year in Utah, tying the state record for 30 police shootings in a year, reached in both 2020 and 2018.
Correction • Dec. 30, 5 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that the Dec. 1 police shooting marked the 30th police shooting in Utah this year.