Photo from Sumter County Sheriff's Office
About 6:30 p.m. on June 21, 2016, a 8.5-9 foot, 300 lb alligator was discovered near some agitated horses that belonged to Reginald Blanton, 74 years old.
Blanton shot the reptile with a 9mm handgun, reportedly hitting it two or three times. Where he hit it is not clear, but the shots would likely have been mortal, because the alligator was still there, lying in the grass, when the authorities "euthanized it".
While the story is two months old, there are important lessons to learn.
After the shots, Blanton's stepson, Jack Hildreth, 58, approached the alligator, believing it to be dead. It wasn't. From wfla.com:
His stepson then arrived and got about eight feet away from the alligator when it suddenly attacked. “Whenever he raised up after my stepson, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. I had never seen nothing like it,” Blanton said.Alligators can move amazingly fast for short bursts, as can be seen on this YouTube video of one predating on a feral pig. (If you are squeamish, do not watch this!)
Link to video on YouTube
The gator in the video seems close to the same size as the one in the Blanton/Hildreth situation.
The video shows the speed with which an attack can occur. Blanton's stepson, Hildreth, 58, was severely injured.
Do not assume your adversary is out of the fight simply because they are motionless and down. They may be "playing possum". Combat soldiers are taught to consider this when they approach downed enemy combatants. A lot of people have been killed by "dead" adversaries.
This goes double for reptiles. Snakes are particularly known for being able to bite long after they are considered "dead". Reptiles need far less oxygen to function; so it takes much longer for their systems to shut down. A severing of the spinal cord stops them immediately, but it is a small target, as is the brain.
What happened six weeks later is also instructive.
After the attack, Jack Hildreth was medivaced by helicopter to have his severe leg and thigh injuries taken care of.
What makes the story current is what happened a few days ago. Reginald Blanton was arrested for shooting the alligator, or for possessing alligator parts illegally. Both charges have been mentioned in press reports. It is not certain if only one, or both have been charged.
This was not a civil summons, as is usually the case in game violations. This was a full blown arrest, haul you off to jail, require you to post bail, situation.
Blanton was arrested on 4 August. He had to post bond, rather unusual for an animal situation, where the arrested is a long time local resident who has property and animals in the area. A 74 year old man with property and animals seems an unlikely flight risk. I would have expected a signature bond at most, but some amount of bond was required.
Blanton was charged with possession of alligator parts. He was arrested and released on Aug. 4 after he posted bail.
Now, Blanton said his lawyer has told him the charges will be dropped Thursday.
Standing with his cattle and donkeys on his County Road 542 property Wednesday, Blanton said he was shocked that he was arrested for shooting at an alligator who was endangering his horses.
The charges came from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and may have involved a missing piece of alligator tail.
A FWC spokesman said that the missing piece of alligator tail was missing before the shooting; so just what part of the alligator Blanton is charged with possessing is uncertain. The dead alligator was removed from his property by the authorities after the attack.
The charges came over six weeks after the shooting. They were not initiated by the local authorities, but by the FWC.
The local population was outraged. One television station received over a thousand comments, the vast majority favorable to Blanton.
Blanton says his attorney told him the charges will be dropped today. It seems optimistic; but he does have strong, local, support. That can make a difference. It could be difficult to find a jury that would convict him. Large alligators are not popular in rural Florida, from my reading. They are not endangered, and many people, with justification, view them as dangerous pests.
You cannot assume that you are legally in the clear, even if the local authorities have not charged you. There are thousands of statutes on the books, and more thousands (mostly federal) are added each year. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know if you are breaking the law or not. Some authoritative writers claim that an ordinary citizen commits three felonies a day, whether they wish to or not, simply because of the complexity and vagueness of the law.
This was a high profile case, locally. Perhaps the Fish and Wildlife investigator wanted to send a message. Perhaps there is evidence that we are unaware of.
But it is an example of the problems that face someone who is involved in a defensive shooting. Legions of people who do not know you and who were not there will be second guessing your motivations. Some of them have the power to cause you considerable difficulty legally, after the fact.
It is another good reason to avoid shooting if there is a reasonable alternative.
Animal attacks are usually far less of a problem to justify than shooting a human, and for many good reasons. But there are numerous people who anthropomorphise animals. Some of those are willing to attack anyone who shoots an animal, no matter how justified it may be.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch