Nearly a dozen officers involved in a tense standoff that culminated in a shootout between police and a wanted gang member — resulting in the death of the gunman and three officers being injured — were legally justified in using deadly force.
That conclusion was reached by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill in an announcement Friday.
On Dec. 1, 2021, a task force consisting of officers from multiple agencies went looking for Anei Gabriel Joker, 20, who was wanted for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl and then shooting at the girl's residence after she reported the incident to police.
Police spotted Joker in the front passenger seat of an SUV near 4100 South and 3600 West. When the SUV pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven, 4110 S. Redwood, officers boxed in the vehicle after two other adults got out. Two more adults exited the vehicle after it was surrounded, leaving only Joker and an infant inside.
During the ensuing standoff, police learned that the 9-month-old child was still in the vehicle. A Unified police sergeant obtained Joker's phone number and called him. When the sergeant asked Joker what it would take to get the baby out of the car, Joker asked for a lighter.
"(The sergeant) offered to give him a lighter if he let (the baby) out of the Yukon and Mr. Joker agreed," the report states, while again reaffirming that Joker "only released the infant in exchange for a lighter."
After about 50 minutes of negotiating, the baby was put in the very back of the SUV and the back hatch opened while Joker remained in the front passenger seat. Two officers approached the vehicle and carried the baby to safety,
After the exchange, Joker "asked for 10 minutes to smoke a blunt and make phone calls before coming out," according to the report. But 10 minutes later, Joker said he still wasn't ready to come out of the SUV because he couldn't reach his mom.
As the standoff progressed, Joker posted a video on Snapchat that he recorded while sitting in the SUV showing him surrounded by officers with the word "shootout" typed across the screen, the report says.
Approximately 90 minutes after Joker pulled into the 7-Eleven, and after continuing to refuse commands to surrender, police fired 17 pepper balls into the vehicle. Pepper balls are small plastic balls filled with a powdery irritant — similar to pepper spray — that is released upon impact to create a "pepper cloud." A person's eyes and throat become irritated, with the hope that person will then surrender.
"Eight seconds after the first pepper ball, Mr. Joker opened the front passenger door, turned toward the officers and fired his weapon toward the officers standing astride the Yukon," according to Gill's report.
Just as Joker was stepping out of the vehicle, West Valley police detective Riley Mauch, who was standing behind and to the side of another officer holding a ballistic shield, noticed the gun in Joker's hands and began yelling, "Gun!"
"Don't do it, Joker, don't do it!" Mauch yelled at him.
In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, Mauch was shot in the chest and leg. A Unified police officer was also hit by what prosecutors called "an object" in his thigh, and another Unified police detective's abdomen was grazed with a bullet fragment or another "object," the report states. A bullet remains in Mauch's leg today. He underwent two surgeries and was released from a local hospital a few days later, according to police.
An autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office reported 40 gunshot wounds or "defects" on Joker's body, with 25 confirmed gunshot wounds.
The investigation determined Joker may have fired up to five rounds, but only one casing from his gun was found. In surveillance video, Joker can clearly be seen pointing a gun at officers, and then a casing is seen flying into the air as his hand with the gun recoils. Based on other evidence, Gill says investigators believe Joker fired more than once, although they cannot account for the missing casings, and they do not believe one of the two shots that hit Mauch came from "friendly fire."
Gill said 11 officers from six agencies were determined to have used deadly force on Joker. All 11 of them declined to be interviewed for Gill's report. Many of them, however, were wearing body cameras. Several of those videos were released by police in 2021.
During a press conference on Friday to go over some of those videos in more detail and discuss his office's findings, Gill explained that part of the reason it took so long for this shooting report to be completed was because he had to put together an ad hoc team to investigate. At least one officer from every agency used for investigating officer-involved shootings was involved in this incident, he said, forcing the district attorney's office to come up with an alternative plan.
Gill also renewed his plea to gun owners to properly store their weapons. Over the past year and a half to two years, there has been a rash of unsecured guns being stolen, he said, such as those left inside unoccupied, and sometimes unlocked cars. Investigators say the gun Joker used to shoot at police was reported stolen out of a car in Salt Lake City 10 days earlier.
"It befuddles me that we continue on leaving guns unsecured in, oftentimes in unlocked cars," Gill said. "We all have a responsibility to our community as lawful gun owners. Please secure and safeguard those weapons."