3 killings tied to same gang; frustrated detectives keep arresting same people

Man accused of murdering U of U football player Aaron Lowe in the mix

In October, a Unified police detective went to California to talk to a man about what he knew about an unsolved shooting death in Millcreek in 2020.

That man was Anei Joker, 20, who shot two police officers before he was shot and killed by police last week. He was in custody in Orange County on a weapons offense. During his conversation, the detective said Joker wrote down lyrics from a song that his friend Awad Majok had written.

"My (expletive) took a life for me. Body drop right in front of me," were the lyrics. Unified police say the rap song is specifically about the Millcreek killing.

As of Tuesday, however, Majok is not being called a suspect in the case and has not been arrested in connection with the incident. But Unified police detectives believe he was at the scene of the killing that night with at least one other person. Joker was able to relay to the detective details about the crime scene that night that were allegedly told to him by Majok, 20.

About three weeks after that Millcreek shooting, Majok was stopped by Salt Lake police in a stolen vehicle with four other people. One of those passengers was Buk Mawut Buk, 22, according to court records, who is currently charged with murdering University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe. Also in the car was a gun that police say has been forensically linked to the Millcreek killing.

A police detective noted in a November search warrant regarding stolen weapons that "over approximately the last several months, members of the Metro Gang Unit (have) noticed a large increase in violent crime across the Salt Lake Valley involving various different gangs."

During a press conference in October, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown also addressed the increase in violent crime — particularly crimes involving guns — across the valley this year. Gill announced that his office would no longer be offering plea deals for people convicted of a crimes involving a gun.

For gang detectives in Salt Lake County, harsher penalties for people convicted in gun crimes would be welcome news, as many feel that gang members have become emboldened by the belief they won't serve hard time if they're caught. It's something detectives believe the public has also begun to notice, as many of the names appearing in recent news articles involving violent crime are of people with lengthy criminal histories.

Joker, Buk and Majok are examples of that. Police say all three are members of the same violent street gang. But despite their multiple arrests and convictions for violent crimes over the past few years, the trio has managed to be sentenced mostly to probation, sometimes over the objection of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Joker injured two police officers on Dec. 1 during a shootout in Taylorsville that also resulted in his death.

But it was certainly not the first time police had had a run-in with Joker. It was not even the first time he'd been shot by police.

  • In 2017, when Joker was 17 years old, he was shot in the abdomen by a Cottonwood Heights police officer after fleeing from police and reaching into his pants for something. After he was taken to a local hospital, medical personnel found a loaded .22-caliber revolver handgun concealed in Joker's underwear. The police shooting was determined to be legally justified.
  • Then in 2019, Joker was one of several people arrested and accused of shooting at another person during a confrontation. Joker was the getaway driver in the incident, according to police. Majok was also arrested in connection with that same shooting.
  • On Oct. 29, 2020, police say Joker was involved in another shooting near 2500 S. Parkcrest Drive. Joker claimed he had fired at rival gang members in self-defense, according to charging documents. He later called emergency dispatchers and claimed he had been shot in the leg, but declined medical attention and refused to say where he was.
Anei Gabriel Joker, 20, is pictured in this booking photo from May 2021. He was shot and killed by police in a shootout Dec. 1 in Taylorsville after police say he shot two police officers.
Anei Gabriel Joker, 20, is pictured in this booking photo from May 2021. He was shot and killed by police in a shootout Dec. 1 in Taylorsville after police say he shot two police officers. | Salt Lake County Jail

As part of a global resolution, Joker pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court in June to that case and several others. When it came time for sentencing, Gill's office requested that Joker be sent to prison. But on July 27, 3rd District Judge Matthew Bates instead placed Joker on three years of probation.

"(Joker) was placed on probation despite the state's objection. We argued that a prison sentence was appropriate due to the violent nature of the three crimes and additional aggravating factors — e.g. the fact that he caused substantial injury to a victim, firearms were used in commission of these multiple offenses, exhibited pattern of aggressive/harmful behavior towards others," Gill said.

Joker also used an alias of Ramon Julima, 25. In August, an arrest warrant was issued for Julima for being a fugitive out of California. He was wanted in Orange County on a weapons charge, according to court documents. Joker was arrested and returned to California on Aug. 30.

While incarcerated in California, a Unified police detective investigating the shooting death of Manuel Felipe Gonzalez-Cortez, 21, of Colombia, on Oct. 18, 2020, in front of a car wash near 635 W. 3900 South, went to California to question Joker about what he knew about the killing.

Joker told the detective that Majok was present during that shooting, according to Unified police. Court documents state that investigators believe there were at least two suspects that night.

On Nov. 1, 2020, Salt Lake police stopped a stolen vehicle with five people inside, including Majok and Buk. Police say Buk was sitting in the back seat. A gun was recovered from the floorboard where Buk had been sitting. It was determined that the gun was stolen out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Oct. 14, 2020, and was at least one of the weapons used in the killing of Gonzalez-Cortez four days later. Buk is not a suspect in the Millcreek killing, according to police.

Majok, who was also arrested, was in possession of a stolen gun, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Buk Mawut Buk in a hearing on Oct. 22, 2021. Buk is charged with aggravated murder in the death of University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe.
Buk Mawut Buk in a hearing on Oct. 22, 2021. Buk is charged with aggravated murder in the death of University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe. | Emily Ashcraft

Buk's extensive criminal history includes placing ads on social media and other websites to allegedly sell items, and then robbing people when they showed up to buy them, according to court records.

On June 8, 2020, he was sentenced to a prison term of one to 15 years, but that was suspended and he was instead placed on probation for three years and ordered to serve a year in jail with credit given for the 240 days he had already served since his arrest.

Buk, 22, is currently charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder and discharge of a firearm. In the shooting death of Lowe, 21, and the shooting of Lowe's 20-year-old girlfriend outside a house party on Sept. 26 at 2215 S. Broadmoor Street (2625 East) in Salt Lake City.

On Nov. 21, 2020 — less than a month after being arrested by Salt Lake police — Majok robbed a man selling a pair of Air Jordan shoes online. After meeting with the man, he put an AR-15 with a pistol grip to the man's neck and robbed him, according to charging documents. He pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge of robbery, a second-degree felony.

Majok was given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to serve 661 days in jail with credit for 296 days he's already spent in jail since his latest arrest. Majok is currently appealing that sentence, however, according to court records. His next court hearing to consider his sentence is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Crime tape and a heavy police presence surround a 7-11 in Taylorsville on Dec. 1. Two police officers and Anei Joker were shot while exchanging gunfire at 4110 S. Redwood. Joker later died from his injuries.
Crime tape and a heavy police presence surround a 7-11 in Taylorsville on Dec. 1. Two police officers and Anei Joker were shot while exchanging gunfire at 4110 S. Redwood. Joker later died from his injuries. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A day after the shootout with Joker, West Valley Police Chief Colleen Jacobs was asked if she was frustrated by the number of people her officers are confronting on the streets after already arresting them for prior violent offenses.

"There are components of the criminal justice system and we're responsible for our component of it which is the enforcement. And we don't have a whole lot of influence over the other components of it. So we do our best to do our part to the best of our ability and hope that the other parts of criminal justice do their parts as well," she said.

Rivera this week had a similar response.

"Reducing violent crime in the county is the top priority of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office and Unified Police Department. All of our resources, including countywide services like the Metro Gang Unit, are dedicated to keeping our communities safe and their current efforts are focused on prevention and intervention. The community can help by properly securing firearms; stolen firearms are often used in the commission of most violent crimes," she said.

Rivera noted in October that the Salt Lake County Jail is filled with more violent offenders than ever before.

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Gill reiterated that public safety is the primary concern of his office and something he's not willing to compromise.

He noted that both police and prosecutors are still dealing with collateral impacts from the state courts being closed due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Gill said it will be two years in February since the first restrictions went into effect and court operations still aren't back to normal. As a result, some people accused of crimes have had to wait an extra-long time to have their cases heard.

But while the court system has slowed down, Gill said crime has not.

He said his office will continue to work closely with gang units and law enforcement agencies across the valley to look for patterns of criminal activity and continue to request that violent criminals be held without bail.

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