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Southern Utah hikers report man making threats with gun over off-leash dogs

Posted at 6:43 PM, Dec 16, 2022

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah — Jaden Turner loves hiking with her cattle dog, Caz. On Dec. 5, she was hiking on the Tukupetski Trail in Washington County when she experienced something that made her never want to hike again.

Her hike started as any other: her dog was off leash, which she says is legal on Bureau of Land Management land. She saw a stranger in the distance and said her friendly "hello" before letting them know her dog is friendly and not to worry. But that's when she noticed something was strange about the person she saw in the distance.

“I have never seen someone with a huge gun and a machete on them on a trail that is full of kids and people," Turner said.

She said the older man then began approaching her unleashing profanities and threats.

"At that point, he says... 'If you don't get that dog on a leash, I'm going to shoot you both,'" Turner recalled.

Turner says she quickly put her dog on a leash, but the man didn't stop. When she reminded him that she believes her dog can be off-leash on BLM land, she says he told her: “I’ll just wait for you down at the parking lot and shoot you there because Washington County law says I could shoot you both."

“This gentleman truly believes if any dog is off leash, he can shoot it," Turner said.

Local gun attorney Mitch Vilos says he cannot comment on this specific case, but hypothetically individuals can protect themselves against off-leash dogs they deem as threatening — there are limits, however.

"I guess the point is whether or not he's threatening a person, if, you know, the owner is nearby and it's clearly a threat against the dog, we do have a very liberal protective statute to protect you from wild dogs or dogs not on a leash," Vilos said.

Vilos also says while it is within Americans' second amendment rights to carry a weapon and let people know you have a weapon; it is not within those rights to point a weapon at someone in a threatening manner.

Turner claims that was exactly what the man was doing — pointing his gun at her in a threatening manner.

"In Utah, prosecutors almost always prosecute pointing a weapon at some part of another person's body as aggravated assault, which is a 3rd-degree felony," Vilos said.

Due to the complexity of carrying a weapon, both Vilos and Turner urge everyone to read up on state gun laws in case they are put in a situation like this.

"People don't walk around with the exact terminology of every statute relating to weapons, and that's what makes carrying a firearm for self-defense somewhat of a legally risky situation," Vilos said.

"Here's my theory about guns: it's way too easy to take somebody's life in an instant decision. I learned a lot about the law that I did not know," Turner said.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said they have reopened this case after more hikers have come forward and shared similar experiences, but since it is still under investigation, they are not sharing any more details or identifying the man at this time.