Fatal Taylorsville police shooting was justified, D.A. rules — even though key evidence went missing

District Attorney Sim Gill said a bullet that pierced a responding officer’s chest was never logged into evidence.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill discusses police body camera footage during a press conference, Friday, March 10, 2023, and said that the Dec. 2, 2021, use of deadly force against Anei Gabriel Joker by multiple agencies was justified. Joker was fatally shot by police in a convenience store parking lot in Taylorsville.

The 11 police officers who unloaded at least 25 rounds into 20-year-old Anei Gabriel Joker during a Taylorsville shootout more than a year ago were justified in their fatal use of force, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.

But a key piece of evidence in the deadly police shooting went missing, Gill disclosed Friday: a bullet that pierced a detective’s chest.

The detective survived the December 2021 shooting. And based on body camera footage from that night, a paramedic originally found the bullet, Gill said. The paramedic then handed the bullet to Alan Belcher, one of the 11 officers who fired on Joker, the footage shows, and the officer pocketed it.

That bullet was never logged into evidence, Gill said Friday.

“Investigators asked officer Belcher about the bullet later,” Gill said. “Officer Belcher’s attorney said Belcher did not remember receiving a bullet that day.”

Joker was taken to a hospital after the shooting, which unfolded in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven at 4110 S. Redwood Road. He was pronounced dead later that night.

The shooting

(Screenshot from WVCPD body camera footage) Body camera footage shows police fatally shooting Anei Gabriel Joker during a shootout with officers in Taylorsville on Dec. 1, 2021. Joker died later that night.

Gill said officers had been looking for Joker on Dec. 1, 2021, in connection with the rape of a 15-year-old girl — and a shooting that later occurred at the girl’s residence. The girl told police that Joker had her iPhone, so officers tracked the phone to a car at the convenience store.

Joker was sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle. Four other adults and an infant were inside the vehicle as well, Gill said. The officer who had found the car then called for backup to prevent the vehicle from leaving the scene.

Two of the vehicle’s occupants had gone inside the store, where police took them into custody. Officers then ordered the rest of the vehicle’s occupants to exit the car. Two complied, but Joker remained inside with the infant.

Joker then began lifting the baby in front of the passenger window, and officers learned he might be armed, Gill said.

A Unified Police officer called Joker’s cell phone and asked what it would take to get Joker out of the car. Joker agreed to hand over the baby if the officer gave him a lighter, Gill said.

A prior passenger then used the vehicle’s key fob to pop open the rear hatch, and Joker placed the baby in the rear cargo area before moving back to the front of the car. Police retrieved the child and tossed a lighter to Joker.

Joker then asked for 10 minutes to “smoke a blunt” and make phone calls before coming out, Gill said. After 10 minutes, Joker told police he didn’t want to come out because he couldn’t reach his mother on the phone, but told officers he would come out if his brother came to the scene.

Joker’s brother arrived about two minutes later, along with other friends of Joker’s, body camera footage shows. Joker had allegedly posted a video to social media showing police vehicles surrounding him with the caption “shootout,” according to documents released by the district attorney’s office.

When Joker still refused to come out 30 minutes later — 90 minutes after the vehicle had pulled up to the convenience store — authorities fired 17 nonlethal pepper balls into the car’s open rear hatch. Eight seconds after the first pepper ball was fired, Joker opened the front passenger door and fired at officers, Gill said.

After Joker fired his weapon, officers returned fire, and three officers received injuries during the shooting. The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner determined Joker suffered “40 gunshot wounds/defects.”

It remains unclear how many times Joker fired his weapon, Gill said, but video evidence shows Joker firing at least one shot. Joker may have fired up to 5 shots, investigators determined, since the gun he fired had 18 rounds left in it, but could hold up to 23.

“Throughout the evening, until the shootout, Mr. Joker conveyed his willingness to endanger and risk people’s lives,” Gill said Friday. “Mr. Joker gave the officers reason to believe that he posed a threat to their lives, and deadly force was necessary to prevent the death or serious bodily injury of everyone around.”

The missing bullet

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill discusses the fatal 2021 police shooting of Anei Gabriel Joker during a press conference, Friday, March 10, 2023.

One of the three officers injured in the shooting — a West Valley City Police detective — suffered a gunshot wound to his chest and another to his lower leg. The two other officers were injured by shrapnel or another object, according to documents from the district attorney’s office.

The bullet that embedded into the detective’s leg remains there, and cannot undergo ballistic analysis, documents state. The bullet that pierced his chest, which a paramedic had found and handed to officer Belcher, was never recovered.

“The bullet’s absence is unfortunate,” Gill said Friday. “It prevents us from determining which gun discharged the bullet that entered [the detective’s] chest.”

Though investigators cannot examine the bullet, Gill said based on its trajectory, and other information derived from the investigation, it’s unlikely that it was “friendly fire,” or fired by a fellow officer.

Prosecutors have declined to file any obstruction of justice charges against Belcher at this time, Gill said Friday, noting that there is “insufficient evidence to prove for us, as prosecutors, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the missing bullet was removed with the intent to hinder the investigation.”

The shooting marked the 29th police shooting in Utah in 2021, according to a database maintained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Prior to the Taylorsville shooting, Joker had previously been wounded by Cottonwood Heights police in a 2017 shooting, when Joker was 17 years old. Gill later ruled that the officer in that shooting was justified.