Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes
TAYLORSVILLE — A standoff in a 7-Eleven parking lot between multiple police officers and a man wanted in a rape and robbery investigation ended in a large shootout Wednesday night, resulting in two officers being injured and the suspect killed.
A West Valley police officer was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and a Unified police officer was hospitalized in serious condition. The man, Anei Gabriel Joker, 20, was also taken to a hospital where he later died from his injuries.
The West Valley officer underwent surgery after being shot twice and was "stable," police said Thursday. His name was not released. West Valley Police Chief Colleen Jacobs said she visited her officer at the hospital Wednesday night.
"I was very relieved to see that he was talking and he was joking, and it was a great relief to know that he was going to be OK," she said. "I have every confidence in this officer's ability and will to recover from this."
The chief said her officer was shot in the left shoulder and left leg. But after undergoing surgery, his prognosis looks good.
"He's been with us for almost six years now. Great guy. Very good detective," Jacobs said. "Can't imagine that he'll be (in the hospital) very long."
Jacobs added that West Valley City has a mental health professional on staff to help the officer, and anyone else, needing extra support after such a traumatic incident.
"Anytime an officer or anyone else is involved in this type or traumatic event, there's going to be scars. There's going to be physical scars, there's going to be mental scars," she said.
Unified police announced Thursday that their officer, who has been with the department for nine years, was treated at a hospital and was later released. He was at home resting Thursday.
The incident began about 9 p.m. Wednesday when officers spotted Joker parked in a 7-Eleven parking lot at 4110 S. Redwood Road. Jacobs said officers from several agencies were working an operation that night and looking for several people, including Joker.
"This was a specific operation to look for some specific individuals," she said, but she declined to provide more details about the operation or what agency was leading that investigation.
When Joker initially pulled into the convenience store, there were two other adults and an infant — believed to be about 9 months old — in his vehicle with him, Jacobs said. At some point, the two other adults got out of the vehicle. Jacobs said two of the three people in the car were the parents of the baby, but she could not say Thursday whether Joker was the child's father.
While Jacobs declined to give many details about Wednesday's incident, she said once officers discovered that a baby was also in the car, "that would change (officers') tactics drastically."
After negotiating with Joker for about an hour, a team of officers was allowed to approach his vehicle and take the baby away from the vehicle.
"(They) did so at great risk to themselves and we're very proud of their efforts to make sure the safety of this baby was at the forefront," the chief said.
But Joker still refused to come out.
"Officers were aware that this suspect is a dangerous suspect and that warranted being approached in such a manner and making every effort possible to get a dangerous suspect into custody," said West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku.
"He still remained inside it, would not get out during that process of negotiation to try to get him to get out of the vehicle. At some point, he exited the vehicle and fired upon the officers," she said.
Numerous police officers, including members of the Metro Gang Unit, had boxed Joker in, taking cover behind their vehicles with their guns drawn as they tried to negotiate with him. At about 10:30 p.m., police fired pepper balls — or small plastic balls filled with chemicals similar to pepper spray or OC spray — into the vehicle in an effort to get Joker to come out, Jacobs explained.
"He did come out of the vehicle firing a weapon," she said.
During the final confrontation, a barrage of shots was heard from KSL camera footage. Joker struck two officers and was hit himself in the shootout. How many shots were fired and how many officers fired their weapons will be part of the officer-involved critical incident investigation, the chief said. Joker arrived at a local hospital at 10:49 p.m. and was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later, according to West Valley police.
@WVCPD officer who was shot is in critical condition. @UPDSL officer is in serious condition. Condition of suspect is not known at this time. Officer Involved Critical Incident protocol has been invoked and the SLCO District Attorney is establishing a team to investigate. 3/3— WVC Police (@WVCPD) December 2, 2021
Jacobs said Wednesday's shooting was unique because of the number of officers from different agencies that were involved, similar to an incident on State Street in Salt Lake City in 2019. Typically, there are four protocol teams to investigate officer-involved shootings in Salt Lake County, but because officers from each team were involved in Wednesday's incident, Jacobs said the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office was putting together a team made up of members of each of those agencies who were not involved to investigate.
Anyone who witnessed the incident is asked to call police at 801-840-4000.
Joker was involved in a number of crimes in recent years. He was convicted of aggravated robbery in June. He was given a suspended prison sentence in that case, with credit for the 94 days he had already served in the Salt Lake County Jail since his arrest, and three years of probation, according to court records.
Joker's plea and sentencing were part of a resolution that included four other cases. He also pleaded guilty in June to attempted discharge of a firearm and aggravated assault and in exchange, a charge of failing to stop at the command of police was dismissed. In the attempted shooting case, Joker was accused of exchanging gunfire with gang members, which he claimed was in self-defense. He initially called police and told them he had been shot in the leg, but wouldn't tell police where he was at, according to charging documents.
Prior to being sentenced in those cases, Joker wrote a letter to the judge in the case in July, apologizing for his actions and asking for probation.
"l learned my lesson," he claimed in the letter. He explained to the judge that he had experienced a rough life, being forced to live in the homeless shelter at an early age after his brother was sentenced to the Utah State Prison. He also stated in the letter that he had two children, ages 1 and 5.
"I no longer want to live these rainy days. I want to become a better man for my kids, for myself," he wrote.
But in a statement to KSL.com, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office had requested that the judge sentence Joker to prison as part of the global resolution of all his cases.
"(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 was also arrested along with a group accused in a 2019 shooting in West Valley City. He was arrested for investigation of failing to stop for police.
Many of Joker's recent crimes happened in West Valley City. Jacobs was asked Thursday if she was frustrated by having to repeatedly arrest a person involved in several 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.
Joker was also known as 25-year-old Ramon Julima. In August, an arrest warrant was issued for him 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.
Police believe Joker's brother, Akol Gabriel Joker, also used an alias. Akol Joker was convicted of murder in 2012 and was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life in the Utah State Prison.
Wednesday's incident marked the second time in less than a week that a police officer in Salt Lake County was hit and injured in a shootout. On Nov. 29, a South Jordan police officer was nearly killed when he was shot in the leg and his femoral artery was severed. That officer is expected to recover. The accused gunman, Malui Salesi Vehikite, 29, remained in a local hospital Thursday but under arrest so he will be transferred to the Salt Lake County Jail as soon as doctors release him.
The incident also marked the third officer from the Unified Police Department/Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to be injured by gunfire this year. In April, two deputies were shot outside the Salt Lake County Jail while investigating a person sleeping on the lawn. One deputy lost an eye. Both survived the shooting.
Contributing: Ashley Fredde