Feature | Final Shot: Salt Lake Police fired Rob Joseph nine years ago. He’s not about to get over it. | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Feature | Final Shot: Salt Lake Police fired Rob Joseph nine years ago. He’s not about to get over it. 

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Movies and Mayhem
nEvery three years, the grand jury panel hears out anyone who thinks they have evidence of a crime. At the end of 2007, the panel heard Joseph’s claims of a conspiracy by Salt Lake City and police officials to frame him and decided Joseph had enough evidence to warrant a criminal investigation. The panel issued a secret request to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and the county Sheriff’s, “to conduct a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice, perjury, false and inconsistent material statements, the suborning of perjury, official misconduct and spoliation of evidence that led to the filing of charges against Mr. Joseph.” n

It was the second time the grand jury panel had asked for the probe. The judges first asked for a Sheriff’s investigation in 2004, but nothing happened. n

Joseph’s Sandy home is in foreclosure for the fourth time. He hasn’t held a steady job since he was fired from the police. “No one wants to hire a dirty cop,” Joseph says. He’s kept a roof over the heads of his wife and four children by working carpentry jobs, but employment has been in short supply recently. Joseph’s wife, Rachelle, who in 2003 held the title Mrs. Utah America, says she thinks the family may lose the house this time. n

Joseph spends a lot of time nowadays in his den surrounded by mementos of his short police career: One glass frame holds Joseph’s Sept. 19, 1997, police academy graduation photo along with his old SLCPD business card, uniform patch, ID and badge. Another wall is devoted to posters for movies Joseph worked as a police technical adviser. Today’s Joseph is thinner than the chisel-jawed policeman shown in stills from movies in which he got bit parts, like Primary Suspect (2000), featuring William Baldwin, and 1999’s Absence of the Good (1999), with another Baldwin brother, Stephen. But Joseph still has the tight black curls and full-toothed smile of his younger self. n

Stapled to a wall by itself—behind Joseph’s head as he sits at his desk—is an unframed photocopy of the movie poster for Serpico. Against the next wall: file cabinets overflowing with tens of thousands of court documents and transcripts. n

The initial aggravated assault charge brought against Joseph in 1999 was dropped four months later, before trial, when the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office decided the evidence against Joseph didn’t stack up. Joseph was offered a deal: Agree not to sue the city, and the police department would officially decide his shooting was “good.” Joseph refused. He wanted an investigation of fellow police officers who got him charged in the first place. n

Joseph was still back on the force in January 2000, but with an “out of policy” shooting black mark on his record. And two months later, he was fired—this time after a city-paid doctor ruled Joseph was too crazy to be a cop. n

“I’d made a decision I’d sit and rot in jail before I’d plead to something I didn’t do,” says Joseph, repeating one of the many lines he’s delivered so often through the years, it sounds like dialogue from a B movie. n

The shooting that led to this legal saga unfolded like something on film. Joseph was in uniform March 26, 1999, but off-duty and helping with an outdoor crash scene for The Crow: Salvation. He had left the film set and met his wife for a key hand-off at Liberty Park when a blue Ford Escort sped by at 80 mph southbound on 700 East. n

When the Ford wouldn’t pull over, Joseph forced the car to stop by blocking the speeder’s path with his cruiser on 700 East near 2300 South. Joseph approached the car with gun drawn. When the driver ignored Joseph’s request to roll down his window, Joseph opened the driver-side door. The next few minutes would change the cop’s life forever. n

The Ford driver, Wesley Scott, later told police he feared being arrested for an outstanding LSD possession warrant. So he floored the car in reverse, scooping up Joseph in the open car door, according to case testimony from Joseph and Scott. Joseph grabbed the open door frame with one hand and hoisted half his body on the Ford’s roof. Scott braked hard, throwing Joseph from the car. He then sped around Joseph’s police cruiser and away, leading sheriff’s deputies in a high-speed chase. n

After Scott floored the car in reverse, Joseph got off 11 shots. He hit Scott twice—injuring his cheek and foot—and struck the left rear panel of the Ford several times. One bullet just missed Scott, lodging in the driver’s seat headrest. Joseph’s fate as a police officer would hang on the question of whether he fired to save his life as the Ford was backing into him, or shot at an unarmed misdemeanor traffic citation suspect driving away. n

For Joseph, it’s a matter of black and white. His experts and his attorney maintained that it was a clear-cut case of self-defense, with no room for debate. But others suggested the shooting was filled with gray. The shooting might never have happened, they argued, had Joseph not put himself in a dangerous situation in the first place. Ultimately, a police officer’s decision to use deadly force is a judgment call—and they didn’t much like Joseph’s judgment.n

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