‘They’ve overstepped their bounds’; Sheriffs battle with DWR over abuse of authority following doe shooting

Photo of deer shot by Utah DWR conservation officer in Antimony, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Cole Montague, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources met with multiple sheriffs following an incident in which a conservation officer went on private property to euthanize a deer that reportedly killed a dog.

The meeting was held at 2 p.m. in Antimony, a town with less than 120 residents in Garfield County. The meeting was attended by Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins, Piute County Sheriff Marty Gleave and DWR officials regarding the incident which took place Jan. 8.

Sheriff Perkins told St. George News Friday that the meeting was held to discuss a lack of communication between the agencies.

“(The DWR) thinks they can do whatever they want, and they’ve overstepped their bounds here,” he said.

At the time of the incident, Cole Montague, who lives in Antimony, received a text from a friend advising that a conservation officer with the DWR was at his home to dispose of the deer, which he had rescued at its birth. He said he had heard nothing about an incident involving a deer killing a dog until his wife and friend returned to the house where they found the animal lying next to the officer’s pickup truck bleeding from a gunshot wound to the face.

Montague also said that even after the deer was shot, he was not given any details about the dog that was reportedly killed.

The shot, however, did not kill the animal. Instead, it fell to the ground and remained there for a while before jumping up and running off, prompting the conservation officer to begin a search for the animal on Montague’s property. But the officer left after the search failed to turn up the doe.

The animal was located shortly thereafter and her wounds were treated. The doe is faring “very well,” Montague told St. George News Monday.

The doe in question is one of two that Montague rescued as fawns. He delivered them two years ago after the mother was struck and killed on the highway. One of the fawns died three months later, while the second survived – the same deer that was shot by the officer last week.

The report of the dog being killed by the deer soon fell apart as deputies investigating the incident found that the man who called police gave three varying accounts of the incident. The first account was the deer attacked his dog so he “had to put the dog down,” Perkins said.

The sheriff’s office then learned from another source that the man told several individuals that the dog chased the deer and he had to put the dog down. That was followed by a third account in which he told another individual that the dog was sold and was no longer in the area.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think anything happened to that dog,” Perkins said.

Even so, the deputy sent a copy of the initial report to DWR because it involved wildlife, and the conservation officer was dispatched to Antimony the following day.

The entire situation is troubling, Perkins said, and the lack of communication from DWR meant that the sheriff’s office wasn’t notified before the conservation officer was sent out to shoot the deer, even though the investigation by the sheriff’s office was still ongoing.

The sheriff added there needs to be communication and cooperation with the sheriff’s office when an incident or report involves private property, as was discussed during Friday’s meeting. He added that the whole situation could have been avoided had the DWR contacted him before they went to Antimony that day.

Sheriff Gleave said the problems go deeper than this particular incident, saying that DWR has “become a state police force,” and that their actions “are above the law.” He added they go into communities they know nothing about, such as the case with the shooting of the doe, and take action without using any common sense.

Gleave also said that he is an elected official, so he answers to his constituents. He said if the situation had played out with a deputy under his orders, “then I’d never be reelected again.” He also said any wildlife problems in Piute County will be handled internally going forward.

Utah DWR Outreach Manager Phil Tuttle told St. George News Monday that establishing better communication between the agencies was important, and the meeting was focused on establishing more corroboration and communication between the offices with both Perkins and Gleave.

“We agree, and we went to Antimony to meet with them to work out a plan to resolve the issues going forward,” Tuttle said.

Perkins said another point of contention with the incident was that DWR shot the doe “because the animal posed a threat to public safety,” which he said is ridiculous. The doe in question is a small doe, not yet full-grown, and weighs less than 40 pounds.

“The deer they shot was the town mascot for God’s sake,” Perkins said.

If anything, he said, the conservation officer was “hunting” on the man’s property with a high-power deer rifle “in the middle of town, five doors down from an elementary school,” Perkins said. “How safe is that?”

The sheriff also stressed that the conservation officer was not “some rogue officer,” but was working under the direction of the DWR and was following protocol when he went out that day.

Tuttle said the deer does pose a risk to public safety by showing a lack of wariness toward humans. This can be very dangerous, he said, in that they are more likely to run out into the roadway which can cause a traffic hazard or cause them to be struck by a vehicle. They can also find themselves in situations they would never have encountered out in the wild.

Perkins said the doe can be seen all over town but is not domesticated, has never been collared or corralled, can forage for food on its own and disappears for days at a time. The animal is less than a year away from joining the herds of deer that live in the area, he added.

Gleave said shooting the doe because the animal posed a threat to public safety made no sense, adding that the doe in question posed no greater threat to motorists than any other deer jumping out in front of cars or running along the highway.

It goes back to communication, Gleave said.

“Had they made one phone call, to either Perkins or myself, then none of this would have ever happened,” he said.

Tuttle reiterated that hindsight is always 20/20, “but we are working toward establishing better communication to avoid situations like this in the future.”

He also confirmed the conservation officer was following the DWR’s euthanasia policy only after verifying that he could do so safely.

No information on the doe’s fate was available at this time, he said, as the incident is under investigation by DWR in Salt Lake City.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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