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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Don’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer
nJoseph claims there was context a decade ago that puts in perspective the action the department took against him. n

In spring 1999, then-civil rights attorney Rocky Anderson (who became mayor shortly after) was railing against the tough-guy tactics of the police chief at the time, Ruben Ortega. The month Joseph was charged, a Salt Lake Tribune headline read, “Families Question Rash of Fatal Shootings by Police.” In his federal lawsuit alleging a conspiracy, Joseph alleged that city leaders facing criticism for the spate of police shootings needed a fall guy, and he just happened to be the next officer to fire his weapon. But Joseph was never able to demonstrate a conspiracy to the satisfaction of the federal judge, who in 2005, finally threw Joseph’s 5-year-old civil-rights lawsuit out of court. He blasted Joseph for making “baseless and scurrilous allegations” about city attorneys. n

Few Salt Lake City officials would comment for this story. Police Chief Chris Burbank did not respond to a request for comment. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff declined to be interviewed. The only thing Salt Lake City Attorney Ed Rutan would say is that, “the claims [Joseph] raised have been repeatedly answered in the negative by court after court.” n

Their reluctance to talk is hardly surprising. Officials who have failed to investigate Joseph’s claims to his satisfactoin in the past have found themselves named later as part of the ongoing conspiracy. n

Joseph simply does not take “no” for an answer. He has taken his case to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, to the FBI, to the Salt Lake City Council and even the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The driver he’d pulled over and shot was never prosecuted. Joseph once accused a judge in his civil-rights case of taking bribes in the form of gifts for his collection of paperweights. n

Rocky Anderson wouldn’t become mayor until after Joseph was fired, but Joseph still called for his impeachment. One of Joseph’s own attorneys would end up suspended from practicing law for filing frivolous lawsuits, one of which was Joseph’s. n

“I spent about an hour and a half listening to his story and I didn’t believe it,” says Dave Lord about his first phone call with Joseph. A former SLCPD officer and instructor to Utah’s police officers on accident scene investigation, Lord would become one of Joseph’s defense experts after becoming a believer. n

Lord marvels at Joseph’s ability to keep up the fight. “In addition to tearing the fabric of his financial life apart, what it’s done to his family and marriage is hard to imagine. It’s a bloody miracle his wife is still with him,” he says. “What has kept him going is he knows he is right. He knows he has been set up, and he’s not going to roll over and spread ’em.” n

Lord says no “honest observer” could look at the aftermath of Joseph’s shooting and determine—as did investigating SLCPD officers—that Joseph had shot from a standing position at an unarmed civilian who was driving away. Lord’s early reconstruction showed what some prosecutors would later come to believe—that Joseph shot at a car that was backing over him in order to save his own life. n

“It was an assassination,” Lord says. “They manufactured evidence, lied, they ruled him a crazy person. It was to make an example of a Salt Lake City cop.” n

After the criminal charge against him was dismissed, Joseph pleaded the case to keep his job before the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission. Commissioners were presented with an analysis of the shooting from the county district attorney’s office. n

Richard Shepherd, then-director of the DA’s criminal division, wrote the DA “could not convict on the evidence,” but added, “I am still concerned.” n

In his evaluation of the event, Shepherd wrote on Jan. 18, 2000, that neither driving under the influence or speeding justify shooting a suspect: “[Joseph’s] deadly force must be justified in the context of the officer’s belief that the backing of the car was an assault which could cause death or serious bodily injury to him. There was no injury to the officer and most, if not all of the shots were fired as the vehicle was leaving. … I don’t think that our decision not to seek criminal liability necessarily means that the use of deadly force was reasonable or justified.” n

The city Civil Service Commission upheld Joseph’s firing. That hearing would turn out to be Joseph’s last chance to argue the case. No court would take an appeal, saying Joseph had his chance. It would take Joseph one year after the civil service hearing to find evidence he thinks would have saved his job, if he’d had it at the time—evidence that had been in the city’s files all along. n

In 2001, while examining his file at Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), the body that licenses police officers, Joseph noticed out of the corner of his eye two documents that had been set aside from the file. He made a mental note of the page numbers, and later subpoenaed the documents for court. n

One was an analysis of the shot-up Ford performed by the Utah crime lab just days after the shooting. By training lasers through the bullet holes, crime lab technicians traced the position of the shooter to near the ground just feet from the car. The second document was an internal memo written by the district attorney assigned to prosecute Joseph. n

In his Nov. 18, 1999, memo suggesting the charge against Joseph be dismissed, then-assistant district attorney Ernie Jones wrote the crime lab’s analysis, “suggests that shots were fired while the officer was on the ground and in danger of being run over by the vehicle. While the injuries to Wesley Scott were serious it appears that Mr. Scott created the situation which caused these injuries.” n

The memo’s next line was the most galling to Joseph because it directly contradicted what the DA’s office would write two months later: “Officer Joseph was justified in shooting Wesley Scott.” n

In his subsequent federal civil-rights lawsuit, Joseph swore up and down he had never received copies of the documents from the city. City attorneys were equally adamant they had sent the material to Joseph early on. n

“I was blown away,” Joseph says. “You see that, you think, ‘They knew, they knew all along. Look what they were willing to do to set me up and not care about the impact on my life.’”n

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