Captain Mark W. Joost of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office will be retiring on Monday, Feb. 29. Cpt. Joost, A.K.A. Robo Cop, has over 30 years in law enforcement. After joining the U.S. Army when he was 17 years old, he spent 10 years in the Army. Joost spent the first three and a half years in the Army as a Military Policeman and Military Police Investigator. Joost then reenlisted to go through infantry school, airborne school and ranger school. While assigned with the 1st Ranger Battalion, Joost sustained hand grenade injuries that redirected his career path. While an instructor for a Pre-Ranger course, Joost attended the U.S.M.C.’s eight week Scout/Sniper school. Joost was the Honor Graduate and helped start a Scout/Sniper school for the Army.
In 1988, Joost was honorably discharged from the Army and returned to Madison to pursue a law enforcement career. There were no openings in law enforcement at that time, so Joost worked at Dixie Packers during the day and attended the corrections academy at night. While attending the corrections academy, Joost was hired by the Madison Correctional Institute Work Camp. At this point, the work camp was being constructed by inmates who were transported daily from Mayo Correctional Institution and there was no fence around the compound yet. Joost later relocated next door to the Madison Correctional Institution after it was completed. As a correctional officer, Joost transported inmates throughout the state, went over rules and regulations with newly arriving inmates, assigned work assignments to inmates as a classification assistant and transported inmates to the bus stop at Twin Oaks Grocery as they were released. After graduating from the law enforcement academy, Joost joined the Madison County Sheriff’s Office Reserves. There were still no positions available with the sheriff’s office, so in 1989 Joost accepted a position with the Madison Police Department. In September of 1990, Sheriff Joe C. Peavy hired Joost after Jimmy Bunting retired to pursue a career with the North Florida Community College's law enforcement and corrections academy. Joost stated that he has always appreciated Sheriff Peavy hiring him. “I have always been a political nightmare, but it sure was fun to work in law enforcement back then,” said Joost.
Of his 26 years with the sheriff’s office, Joost spent his first three years as a road deputy and K-9 officer.
“My goal was to be a proactive law enforcement officer. During my first eight years with the sheriff’s office, it was common that there would be one deputy covering the entire county after midnight,” said Joost. “This meant you learned to talk real good, fight real good or a combination of both!”
One night during his first year as a road deputy, Joost had just gotten off duty at 2 a.m. and was at the Tank-N-Tummy truck stop washing his patrol vehicle. There was a “fight” call at a club just south of Madison. Technically, there was only one deputy covering the county and he was on the opposite side of the county. The fight was between individuals from Madison and Greenville. While heading to the club, Joost noticed all vehicles were headed north towards Madison except one. He recognized that vehicle as being from Greenville. The communications officer then relayed that subjects from Greenville had shot a subject from Madison. After a brief pursuit, Joost stopped the vehicle and arrested the four occupants. During a search of the vehicle, Joost recovered a sawed off shotgun. Sheriff Ben J. Stewart was one of the two investigators at that time. Stewart responded to the club and determined that the son of one of the correctional officers had apparently been murdered by one of the four subjects Joost arrested. The homicide victim had apparently been shot numerous times with a .22 revolver. After assisting at the shooting scene, Joost walked the side of the highway where he pursued the suspect vehicle. During the search, Joost located and recovered the handgun used in the homicide.
Joost spent 20 of his 26 years with the sheriff’s office working investigations. Joost served as a narcotics investigator for the first three years. This included undercover drug buys in Central Florida, North Florida and South Georgia, surveillance, street level buys, high risk search warrants and street level drug interdiction. Joost worked criminal investigations after this. The last six years of the 20 years of investigations were as Chief Investigator for the sheriff’s office. Joost made several homicide arrests during his first year with the sheriff’s office. Throughout the years, he investigated many other homicides and violent crimes with an exceptional conviction rate.
Joost strived to be instrumental in bringing proactive training to the sheriff’s office. He became a firearms, defensive tactics, taser and general subjects instructor with the NFCC Law Enforcement and Corrections Academy in 1996. Joost has been a deadly force and high liability instructor for the sheriff’s office ever since. Joost started the sheriff office’s first S.W.A.T. team in 2006. “The goal was to increase officer safety while taking violent armed predators into custody,” said Joost. After training them for just two weeks, Joost led the team as they hunted down a homicide suspect. The manhunt lasted all night. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office F.L.I.R. helicopter as well as four K-9 teams from the surrounding prisons assisted. After tracking the armed fugitive through wooded and residential areas all night, the K-9 lost the fugitive’s scent. Joost then tracked the suspect approximately 100 yards to a storage building. Joost led his team into the structure where he located the fugitive, hiding in a rolled up mattress; the fugitive was armed with two handguns. A few months later, Joost led the S.W.A.T. team as they lured another one of his homicide suspects back to a murder scene. The armed fugitive returned to the location where the homicide was still being processed under the pretense of a liaison with his girlfriend. The suspect was a passenger in the victim’s vehicle as he returned with two of his codefendants. The murder weapon, drugs and stolen property were recovered along with the victim’s car. The investigation revealed that the murdered woman was a Good Samaritan who picked up the fugitive and offered him work.
“Pursuits are always a fun part of the job,” stated Joost. One of the most colorful pursuits was that of a fugitive in a stolen Fleetwood motor home. The driver did a gas drive off in Lowndes County, Ga. Several Lowndes County deputies intercepted the motorhome and pursued it after the driver refused to stop. The Lowndes County deputies were assisted by Madison County deputies as they continued into Florida. Unbeknownst to the officers, the fugitive had robbed 11 banks in Indiana and Illinois. The fugitive initially used a stolen truck, but after shooting at a U.S. Marshal and other pursuing officers, he stole the motorhome. He then used a bicycle to ride to the banks he robbed. After returning to the motorhome, he would drive off into the sunset undetected. Joost was at the State Attorney’s Office in Live Oak as he overheard this pursuit on his radio. The fugitive attempted to intentionally ram several Madison County deputies as he careened the huge vehicle around multiple road blocks and the busy streets of Madison. After officers reported that the motorhome turned east on Hwy 90, Joost sped from Live Oak towards the Suwannee River bridge in an attempt to intercept it. The fugitive beat Joost to the bridge so he stopped at Falmouth, retrieved his M14 rifle and set up stop stick tire deflating devices. The fugitive ran over the stop sticks but they had no apparent effect on the motorhome’s large tires. Due to the crowd that gathered, Joost did not fire at the vehicle. After seven Lowndes, Madison and Suwannee County patrol vehicles passed, Joost fell in line with his unmarked Chevy Trail Blazer. Joost was concerned that the fugitive was quickly approaching the heavy Thanksgiving holiday traffic in Live Oak. After the fugitive attempted to ram a Suwannee County deputy, Joost passed the caravan of law enforcement officers, drove on the grass alongside the motorhome and pointed his shotgun at the fleeing armed robber with his right hand while steering with his left hand. As the fugitive made numerous attempts to side swipe Joost, Joost shot out each of the motorhome’s left side tires. Although the tires started to shred, the fugitive continued towards Live Oak at dangerously high speeds. The motorhome was on fire and smoking heavily as it entered the Live Oak city limits on rims. After making it through town, the fugitive made a final attempt to ram another Suwannee County deputy before the fully engulfed motorhome came to a final rest on the shoulder. After the fugitive was taken into custody, Joost recovered evidence that linked him to the 11 bank robberies. Joost later testified against the robber in Madison County and Indiana.
Joost recalled another “colorful pursuit” that took place after an armed robbery in Lowndes County. A vague description was relayed for a white Ford Crown Victoria and its occupants who were last seen speeding towards Madison County. Joost was in his office doing paperwork that Saturday afternoon when the B.O.L.O. was put out. The two deputies on duty were working on a forgery investigation in the northeast side of the county. Joost asked them to standby at the Bellville Bridge in case the perpetrators were Madison County residents trying to sneak back in. Joost sped past Madison police officers staged at the city limits and headed up Colin Kelly Highway in an attempt to intercept the robbers. Three miles north of Madison, Joost observed a white Japanese compact vehicle with dark tinted windows. Although it didn’t fit the description, he decided to check it out due to the time frame. The car initially stopped, so Joost approached the dark tinted windows with his .45 drawn and concealed behind his leg. The driver rolled down his window and Joost noted that his camouflage Army jacket and dreadlocks fit the B.O.L.O. description. As Joost drew down on him, the suspect sped off. Joost caught up with the robbers several miles north of Madison. As he caught up, the driver and his two occupants all opened fire on him. Joost relayed this information to the city officers who already heard the gunfire. The driver continued to shoot at Joost out of his window, the rear passenger fired at him while standing exposed through the sun roof and the right front passenger hung out of his window to fire. The occupants exchanged fire with the Madison police officers as they narrowly missed motorists at the road block. Joost briefly lost sight of the fleeing vehicle as he negotiated the roadblock and the suspects rounded a curve into the city limits. The robbers however were nice enough to wait for him and ambush him as he rounded the curve. The pursuit continued through busy city streets.
“At that point, my foot was to the floorboard and my primary goal was to give those guys a steaming Chevy Trail Blazer enema in the name of Jesus, of course! Maybe some are too spiritual for that, but gunfights and pursuits are multitasking sports,” recalls Joost. “I was trying to get my vest on and get a round chambered in my shotgun while asking dispatch to call out our S.W.A.T. team and requesting the prison K-9 team be called out. These guys had fired at me over 50 times. One of their rounds pierced my radiator and another struck the door post next to me. Each time I looked at them I saw three handgun muzzles pointing directly at me. I attribute the crucifix hanging from my rearview mirror being an extension of the Lord’s hedge of protection around me. Although I saw nothing but muzzles, not a single round struck me or my windshield.”
Joost continued to pursue the suspects to the interstate then east on I-10 as his patrol vehicle continued to lose power due to the draining radiator fluid. At this point, Officer David Jarvis, who had been shot at as the suspects blew through the roadblock, caught up with Joost. The suspects then headed north towards Madison on Hwy. 53. This was a bad move on their part. Joost requested that his S.W.A.T. team members, including Alan Whigham and David Harper, stage at Harvey Greene Drive to intercept the suspects before they had an opportunity to return to Madison. After Joost limped his patrol vehicle over Harvey Greene Hill, he saw 267’ of skid marks down the hill to the grass shoulder were the vehicle sat with three doors open. Joost turned to the left down a dim trail to help establish a perimeter and await the prison K-9 team. While waiting on the perimeter, Joost heard the suspects working their way through the thick swampy brush. Joost grabbed his shotgun and pursued them on foot. After getting within 50 yards of them, the robbers heard Joost and began leaping over the brush.
As Joost exited the thick brush, he saw the three suspects about to enter another wooded area 75 yards away. While running towards them, Joost yelled “Sheriff’s office, stop!” several times before firing two rounds from 67 yards away. Two projectiles struck one of the armed suspects and two of the individuals hit the ground. The third suspect continued into the wood line but was apprehended by perimeter officers a short time later. Joost handcuffed the individual he shot. The second suspect he took into custody had pre-cut lengths of rope in his pocket that they intended to tie their robbery victims with. Joost used this rope to secure the second suspect. Joost misplaced his handheld radio during the initial vehicle pursuit.
Tommy Greene was the first one to him after he honed in on the gunshots. Joost later assisted investigators in linking the three subjects to extremely violent armed robberies in Central Florida, North Florida and South Georgia. “I have reprimands in my personnel file for speeding, eating my yogurt and drinking my orange juice while waiting for a trooper at a homicide scene and for political incorrectness, but after 26 years of proactive law enforcement I don’t have any 'attaboys,'” said Joost. “That’s fine though. Praise from man has never been the incentive. Striving to honor God and mission accomplishment continue to be my ultimate goal.”
Joost stated that he was justified in using deadly force at least 20 times during his past 26 years in law enforcement.
“I have been shot at many, many times and I have prevailed through countless violent encounters, but I have only had to use deadly force several times. Some of the easiest arrests I have made have been for first degree murder,” said Joost. “Some of the deadliest life or death fights have been for simple traffic infractions. I value life, but many of those we deal with do not value life, including their own. I have taken numerous risks that I probably should not have.”
”I learned a long time ago that there is always someone bigger and 'badder' and there is always someone smaller and 'badder,' but if you treat people with dignity and respect it generally goes a long way,” added Joost. “I have strived to be firm, fair and impartial.”
“I enjoyed working with Sheriff Stewart before he retired as a sheriff’s office captain. I consider him to be a man of integrity and I repeatedly asked Sheriff Stewart to prayerfully consider running for sheriff before he committed to this,” said Joost. “I put my head on a political chopping block to help Ben run for sheriff, and I will support him as long as he feels led to run.” Joost reported that he has been sidelined with administrative duties these past six years.
“The Lord did not wire me for that. I am an 'adrenaline junkie' and one of my favorite past times is hunting down violent armed predators! This isn’t a power and control thing,” said Joost. “I am 'hard wired' for this and this is when I am in the center of the Lord’s will for my life. Although I may despise politics, I love law enforcement. I will strive to continue serving the citizens of Madison County by becoming an active member of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office Reserves. This is how I started with the sheriff’s office. I plan on continuing to facilitate my Concealed Carry Weapons classes and Youth Adventure Camps, assist with investigations, monitor sexual offenders and sexual predators, and follow up on one of my homicide investigations.”
Joost considers the Concealed Carry Weapons classes and the Youth Adventure Camps to be two of his ‘personal ministries.’ “I see a big need for helping our law abiding citizens become aware and prepared,” said Joost.
The Concealed Carry Weapons classes finance the week-long Youth Adventure Camps. The Youth Adventure Camps are faith-based mini leadership courses that share faith, adventure and life skills with the youth of our community. “The Concealed Carry Weapon classes and Youth Adventure Camps have been part of my vision, but I have been blessed with a lot of help from fellow sheriff’s office employees as well as friends in our community,” said Joost.
During his “semi-retirement,” Joost plans to focus on spending quality time with his family, friends and loved ones. Besides the sheriff’s office reserves, he also plans to remain active with the arborist business he started two years ago called Mountain Ranger Tree Service. He recently got certified in tower climbing and rescue and will start rope access certification training during the last week of February. These certifications will open up work for him on cell phone/broadcast towers, bridges, skyscrapers and offshore oil rigs. Joost is also considering overseas contracting work. According to Joost, “retirement is not a Biblical word!”