Hikers want protection from armed ‘vigilante’ allegedly abusing them for walking their dogs off-leash

Police say they’ve identified the man but that the situation is “he said, she said.”

(Jaden Turner) This cell phone photograph shows an unidentified man brandishing a firearm and machete on a hike near Santa Clara, Dec. 5, 2022. Turner and others allege the man is harassing hikers with unleashed dogs.

St. George • A gun-toting man who is haranguing hikers walking their dogs off-leash on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails in the area is either a vigilante who is a threat to others or someone who legitimately fears for his safety and is exercising his constitutional right to bear arms and defend himself.

Hikers who have had run-ins with the man believe the former, while thus far, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department seems to be leaning toward the latter. That infuriates Jaden Turner, who says her altercation with the man on BLM land in the Santa Clara Reserve on Dec. 5 left her badly shaken and worried that he would kill her and her dog.

Turner was walking her dog Baz, a cattle dog she rescued from a kill shelter in Texas, along the Land Hill Cliffs that afternoon off-leash, not far from the Tukupetsi Trailhead, when she saw a man crest the hill in front of them and walk briskly in her direction.

No sooner had the St. George resident called out “hello” and told the older man that Baz was friendly, she said, he began screaming at her, calling her the “C-word” and unleashing a torrent of other profanities. She said the man — who sported a Second Amendment patch on his blue warmup jacket and was armed with a machete — also began reaching for something.

“I was dumbfounded,” she recalled. “He pulls out a gun and is pointing it at both of us, saying, ‘I’m going to shoot you and your dog if you don’t put him on leash.’ "

Turner remembers stepping in front of her dog to protect him, trying to get a leash on him while simultaneously telling the man that her dog didn’t pose a threat and that it didn’t require a leash on BLM land.

(Jaden Turner) This cell phone photograph shows a Second Amendment patch worn by an unidentified man on a hike near Santa Clara, Dec. 5, 2022. Turner and others allege the man is using weapons to harass hikers with unleashed dogs.

Officials say county leash laws are in effect on BLM land, but even when she put on the leash, she said, the man kept coming and pointing the handgun at her and the dog.

“He kept raging and said, ‘I’m going to shoot you and your dog,’ " she said, adding she was fumbling with her phone but managed to snap a few pictures of her verbal assailant.

When she tried to go off-trail to let him pass, Turner said, he followed her and continued his nonstop threats but eventually holstered his firearm. She then told him she would be calling the BLM rangers who would be waiting for him at the trailhead and arrest him for brandishing a weapon and threatening her with a gun on federal land.

“Well,” Turner recalls him saying, “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.”

Turner recalls walking backward with her dog toward the top of the hill, afraid to turn her back on him as he descended toward the trailhead in the opposite direction. Eventually, she and Baz made it back to her vehicle, which had an index card with the county leash ordinance the man had affixed to it, and drove home.

After emailing the BLM about the incident the next morning, Turner said she was visited by two sheriff’s deputies that evening, who told her they were responding to her incident and another incident on Dec. 5 in which the man allegedly wielded a machete and threatened another woman walking her dog off-leash. They asked her for information that might help them locate the man and asked her if she would be willing to press charges if they apprehended the man, she said.

While the BLM has law enforcement officers to patrol the reserve land, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department assists the federal agency in patrolling the areas. The BLM has yet to comment on the issue.

Turner said she posted her pictures and a description of the incident on the Washington County Community Watch Facebook page and forwarded several tips she received from group members about other incidents involving the man to the investigating deputies but never heard back from them.

Washington County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Joel Hafoka told The Tribune on Wednesday that deputies succeeded in tracking down the man, an Ivins resident who is in his 70s. He said the man, whose identity is being withheld, told deputies that he told Turner to put the dog on the leash because it looked like the dog was going to bite him, and that he had a firearm and would use it if he needed to protect himself.

“It was … ‘He said, She said’ at that point,” Hafoka said the investigators determined. “There was evidence that there was a firearm … involved by the other party, but that it wasn’t pointed or directed towards anyone. It was more used as a defense mechanism [toward] the dog that was off leash.”

(Jaden Turner) A hiking trail near Santa Clara. Turner and others allege an unidentified man is using weapons to harass hikers with unleashed dogs.

The deputies’ conclusion about the incident runs counter to several tips Turner received from people who saw her Facebook posts. She said several people have told her that they have encountered the man on the trails while walking their dogs off-leash and have been threatened with a machete or gun, but they are afraid of going to the police or talking about the incident publicly out of fear of retaliation.

One who isn’t is St. George resident Lance Snarr. He hasn’t seen the man pull a gun or a machete, but the two encounters he has had with him have convinced him the man poses a grave threat to public safety.

Snarr had his dog on a leash on Paradise Rim Trail in the Red Cliffs Reserve Area near Snow Canyon a few months ago. He was about 30 yards behind a young woman walking a well-behaved dog off-leash when he saw a man approaching her.

“He went all unhinged on her,” Snarr recalled. “He called her the ‘C-word’ and ‘M-F–in’ this and that. It was a brutal verbal assault on this young lady … and I thought I might have to intervene for her safety because he was so out of his mind. I wasn’t sure if he was going to get physical. Fortunately, he did not. As he continued on towards me, he said, ‘I”m glad to see your dog is on the leash, not like that c— down there.’ ”

Two weeks ago, it was Snarr’s turn. He was walking his dog off-leash on the same trail when he saw a man approaching in the distance and quickly put the leash on, unaware the person was the same man he had encountered previously.

“He absolutely became unhinged,” Snarr said. “He was absolutely crazy. I remember thinking he was either extremely mentally ill or really wants to shoot somebody.”

Snarr said other hikers he has talked to have had nearly identical encounters. For her part, Turner is infuriated at the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, arguing they have not thoroughly investigated the problem or talked to all the people who have had altercations with the Ivins man.

Sgt. Hafoka said the department can’t speak to the other alleged victims Turner is referring to without talking to them.

“As far as I can see, none of them have called the sheriff’s office,” he said. “I think [the Turner incident] is the only one that we’ve heard about so far. And so we can only investigate and work off of this one [case] that we have. Now, if that’s a concern from other individuals who feel like there’s a violation of law there, then they can reach out to [the] sheriff’s office so we can investigate.”