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‘I thought I could save him’: Family of man killed in police shootout tried to persuade him to surrender

SALT LAKE CITY ­— Thomas Joker wishes he had more time.

He rushed to a Taylorsville 7-Eleven late Wednesday as blue lights flashed and officers trained their weapons on his younger brother in a parked SUV. He spoke to 20-year-old Anei Joker over the phone, trying to calm him down, but his brother emerged from the car shooting, according to police.

Anei Joker wounded two officers and was fatally injured in the firefight.  

“I thought I could save him,” Thomas Joker said Friday. “I tried my best.”

Deadly standoff 

Police from several agencies had been looking for Anei Joker in connection with a rape and robbery investigation. They found him about 9 p.m. at the gas station at 4110 S. Redwood Road, inside the SUV with a 9-month-old child and several adults, according to West Valley police.

The other adults exited the vehicle, and Joker allowed police officers to retrieve the infant unharmed. But he refused to get out of the car himself, leading to a standoff that lasted for over an hour.

While on the phone with his brother, Anei Joker had asked to speak with his mother, Thomas Joker recalled, but when they couldn’t reach her by phone, his siblings took turns speaking with him. He said police were simply doing their job that night, but he wishes the family had more time before officers fired less-lethal rounds and gunfire erupted.

“It’s the worst thing possible,” Thomas Joker said.

Thomas Joker speaks about his brother, Anei Joker, who wounded two police officers before he was fatally injured in a firefight.

Several of Anei Joker’s family and friends, shocked and grieving, told KSL they wonder if they could have done anything differently to prevent the deadly violence. They declined to speak in detail about his criminal history of convictions including robbery and assault, or what may have led up to the shootout on Wednesday.

Snapchat posts 

Before any shots were fired, a video was posted from Anei Joker’s Snapchat account showing flashing police lights with the caption “shootout” from inside the car.

Snapchat video from an account believed to be Anei’ Joker’s shows flashing police lights from inside a car.

Two videos – about nine seconds in total – show cars with lights flashing in several directions, with the one-word caption appearing at the end of the second video. KSL investigators obtained recordings of the videos and confirmed with friends and family the account belonged to Anei Joker.

Roxanne Vainuku, spokeswoman for West Valley City police, said officers fired pepper balls at Anei at 10:29 p.m. One minute later, he exited the vehicle and the first shots were fired.

One West Valley officer underwent surgery and was recovering in serious but stable condition. A second officer with Unified police was being treated at a hospital and released.

Anei Joker was pronounced dead a short time after he arrived at a hospital overnight Wednesday.

Private investigator Kelly Shafto said although Snapchat messages disappear for users after time, digital forensic tools can uncover them and pinpoint the exact second they were sent.

Shafto’s company, Bluecore, is not involved in the investigation of Anei Joker’s death. She spoke generally about police.

It’s become common for people to post a manifesto online before shooting others or engaging in other crimes, Shafto said. So it stands to reason that as social media has become more instantaneous – via apps like Snapchat and TikTok – a person’s statements of intent to carry out violence are, too.

“This kind of makes sense that it would be like a one-word post, somebody making a statement before they did something,” Shafto told KSL.

A history with police 

Wednesday was not the first time he’d been shot by police. Four years earlier, a Cottonwood Heights sergeant shot and injured Anei Joker during a traffic stop. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting legally justified, noting Anei appeared to be reaching for something in his waistband.

Thomas Joker says he believes his brother was pulled over that day simply because he is a Black man. A teenager at the time, Anei Joker became fearful and distrustful of police, his brother said.

Anei Joker is pictured in an undated photo provided by his family.

His sister Mary Joker can’t help but wish authorities waited longer before firing less-lethal rounds.

Her younger brother had called her that day, but she was sleeping, she said. She believes things would have gone differently if she had answered.

“I just wish I was there to be with him,” she said in an interview at her home in West Jordan, wiping away tears. “I raised this kid, I did.”

Mary Joker, Anei Joker’s sister, is pictured at her home in West Jordan.

Anei Joker was a father to a young son and a doting uncle to her twin children, she said, often bringing them McDonald’s meals and gifts. But his own father lives in Egypt, and he “needed that guidance in his life that he does not have,” Mary Joker said.

Their family, originally from Sudan, relocated to Salt Lake City about 20 years ago, where Anei Joker was born, his sister said.

Her brother was going through a tough time while on probation, she said, with a record of assault and robbery in Utah and weapons convictions in Orange County, California.

The baby’s mother 

A friend of Anei Joker’s told KSL the baby girl in the car was her own, not Anei’s.  The woman said she was handcuffed and feared police might shoot at the car and harm her child, but she wasn’t worried Anei would do anything to hurt the child.

“I know he would never put any of my children or anybody else’s children in harm or in danger, ever,” she said. She shared a picture with KSL of Anei Joker smiling with the girl; it was taken sometime before Wednesday.

She declined to provide more details about the chain of events preceding the shootout and asked her name be withheld, citing concern for her family’s well-being.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which is tasked with reviewing the use of deadly force, declined to comment.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you. 

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