Dogsitter cited for trespassing after pet shot and killed in Wolcott
Eagle County Sheriff's Office's report contains details disputed by those involved in incident
WOLCOTT — Bellyache resident Stephen Katz asked for “the fullest extent of the law” in seeking retribution for the killing of a dog he was watching, according to an incident report released to the Vail Daily by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office late Wednesday.
Katz was instead told that the only crime that occurred was his own, and was cited for trespassing on the property where the dog had been shot with an arrow. Jen Mason, who serves on the Vail Town Council, is the owner of the dog killed in the incident.
Katz received the trespassing citation on Friday, Sept. 2, otherwise known as Opening Day for bow hunters in Colorado. Katz was jogging in an area owned by the Jouflas family, longtime sheep ranchers well known in the area for assisting Vail Mountain’s founders with the acquisition of the Game Creek Bowl on Vail Mountain. The family still owns thousands of acres in the area after homesteading in Wolcott in the 1920s.
Katz has also lived in the Vail area for decades and is well known around the GoPro Mountain Games as an amateur dock dogs competitor, training his dog to jump great distances into water. He now resides in the Bellyache area where he enjoys jogging with dogs, and said after reviewing language from a homeowners association in the area, he assumed it would be OK to go around a locked gate with his off-leash dogs during a morning jog.
But Katz said after going around the gate onto Bureau of Land Management land, he later climbed over another fence, following his dogs which had slipped under the barbed wire in front of him.
Greg Jouflas, who owns the land adjacent to the BLM property, said at that point, Katz should have known he was trespassing.
“The area is fenced and clearly marked with no trespassing signs,” Greg Jouflas said in an interview with the Vail Daily.
Although the trail ends at the no trespassing signs, Katz said he had gone off trail and he couldn’t see the signs when he stepped over the barbed wire. He said earlier that morning he had received a piece of bad advice from a nearby property manager and assumed the whole area was Bureau of Land Management land, even the parts off the trail and beyond the barbed-wire fence.
Greg Jouflas’ nephew Henry, 24, told officers he was observing a herd of deer from a tree stand used for hunting when he noticed two dogs run over a hill, chasing the herd.
“Henry stated he assumed that the dogs were loose and out of control because he did not recognize the dogs or see any other person, as he was well within his family-owned private property,” according to the report. “Henry stated one of the two dogs stopped, and he ‘put it down, to stop it from further harassing the wildlife.’”
The dog was shot through the lungs and died quickly, Greg Jouflas said, in a location about 40 yards from the tree stand.
“Henry said a few minutes later, Stephen came over the hill,” according to the report. “Henry confronted Stephen, notifying him he was on private property, and told him he had killed the dog. A verbal argument took place between Henry and Stephen. Henry stated that Stephen threatened him but understood emotions were high because of the deceased dog.”
Katz later said Henry also threatened him with the weapon at that point, but officers said Stephen did not disclose that statement in his initial report.
“Later in the afternoon, Stephen contacted me by telephone,” Deputy Brandon Bernard wrote in the report. “Stephen told me that Henry physically pointed the ‘crossbow’ at him. I advised Stephen that he was changing his story and that he had shown me how the crossbow was held and gave no indication that he had been threatened before. Stephen began to argue hypotheticals with me about what if Henry did point the weapon at him and inquired about what Henry could be charged with.”
Officers then contacted Henry Jouflas again, who denied pointing the weapon at Katz.
“Henry stated that he did have the crossbow in his hands when Stephen aggressively approached him and began threatening him for killing the dog, but at no point did he point the weapon at Stephen,” according to the report.
No further charges followed, but the report contains details being disputed by both Katz and Greg and Henry Jouflas. Katz said he stated that he was threatened initially, and never changed his story. Greg Jouflas said that his nephew does not own a crossbow and the weapon was a standard compound bow used for hunting, not a crossbow which is illegal to use during bow hunting season.
Katz said while the petty offense of trespassing would be easy to put behind him by pleading guilty, he isn’t likely to do so if it impedes his ability to sue in civil court. Katz says the language he found online from the HOA was confusing enough to grant him the benefit of the doubt.
“The HOA also agreed to allow the Jouflas Family to install a gate at the end of Big Dipper, located on (the HOA’s) out-lots,” according to the text. “The Jouflas Family wanted the gate to eliminate illegal hunting on private property. It was installed in the fall of 2013 by James Jouflas and it has a 12-foot wide locked gate and a small unlocked gate for hikers to walk through.”
Greg Jouflas said that’s all true, but it doesn’t excuse Katz from crossing the next gate he encountered, which was locked, with barbed wire extending from an area that contains numerous no trespassing signs.
Katz says he intends to pursue the matter in civil court with a simple contention: The dog didn’t have to die.
“You fire a warning shot, you don’t kill an animal,” Katz said.
Greg Jouflas said on the contrary, the dog was guilty of a capital offense for dogs in Colorado — chasing wildlife on private property — and death was the penalty.
“That has been the law in Colorado for many, many years,” Greg Jouflas said. “That dog could have easily killed that fawn if he caught it.”
Greg Jouflas said if Katz had been with the dog at the time, it would still be alive.
“Mr. Katz was nowhere to be found when that dog was chasing those deer,” he said.
Henry Jouflas told officers he made the decision to kill the dog out of concern for wildlife.
“Henry told us he was remorseful for having to put the dog down, but he didn’t want to see the harassment of wildlife continue,” according to the report.
Officers were notified of the incident by Mason, the dog’s owner, who had left the dog with Katz. The dog, named Nelson, was a 7-year-old Portuguese water dog of about 55 pounds.
“Jennifer was very distraught, crying and sobbing as she informed me that her uncle, who she verbally identified as Stephen Katz, was walking her dog on private property, and a hunter she identified as (Henry Jouflas) had shot her dog with a bow and arrow,” Bernard wrote in the report.
The Jouflas family told officers that they have had many previous issues with persons trespassing on their ranch in the Bellyache area of Wolcott.
Katz said it was his first and last time in the area, and he didn’t know he was trespassing.
James Jouflas, Henry’s father, said that there was no way that someone could be where Katz was without realizing that they were trespassing.
“James was very upset that this incident occurred on his property and wanted the violator cited for trespassing,” according to the report.
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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