Man arrested for killing a threatening alligator, prompts fiery responses

Problem alligator was euthanized by a professional trapper after man shot it three times. Photo: Courtesy of Sumter County Sheriff

Problem alligator was euthanized by a professional trapper after man shot it three times. Photo: Courtesy of Sumter County Sheriff

A Florida man who shot an alligator that was threatening horses on his property was arrested for killing the gator, prompting a fiery online outcry over whether the man had the right to shoot the reptile.

Some reports made it sound as if Reginald Blanton of Bushnell, Florida, shot the 300-pound alligator after it attacked his stepson, but that wasn't case.

Blanton, 74, shot the gator with a 9mm handgun when he saw it was only a few feet from his horses.

"I shot at him four times, and they said I hit him three," Blanton told WFLA.

When his stepson, Jack Hildreth, 58, arrived on the scene, he believed the alligator was dead and stood 8-feet away. Suddenly the alligator snatched Hildreth by the leg, causing severe injuries.

RELATED: Alligator adds new element of fear after what it did on a golf course; video

"Whenever he raised up after my stepson, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon," Blanton told WFLA. "I had never seen nothing like it."

A friend helped pull Hildreth away from the gator.

Soon after, Sumter County deputies surrounded the gator and a licensed trapper euthanized it.

WFLA posted the story about Blanton's arrest on Facebook and the station reported that the vast majority of commenters felt he should not have been charged with unlawfully killing the alligator. Indeed, the overwhelming majority believed he should have had the right to protect his animals and property.

In the discussion, two prominent questions emerged: Does the Florida Stand Your Ground Law apply in this case? Why was Blanton charged with killing the alligator if it was the trapper that ultimately did the killing?

WFLA answered the first question:

The statute does not give authority to use force of any kind against an animal if being attacked.

Instead, Floridians must rely on case law and the animal cruelty statute. The animal cruelty law states a person who unnecessarily mutilates or kills any animal commits animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree, which is punishable by up to a year in jail.

The Independent Journal reported that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says you must call in "nuisance" alligators rather than taking action against them.

The second question was not addressed, though one can only assume the alligator was dying when the trapper put it out of its misery.

RELATED: Sheriff's deputy wrestles, subdues unruly alligator

Among the responses on Facebook:

"We are getting real stupid when it comes to so-called protected animals…that alligator was near his horses and would have attacked them…the man was defending his horses and property…he definitely was not hunting it…couldn’t wait for a trapper."

"He was only protecting his property. He did not attempt to transport or profit from the gator and reported it to the Wildlife Commission. Leave him alone."

"That is too unbelievable!! I wouldn’t expect anything less from my husband if an alligator came into our yard or property!"

"I think it is wrong to arrest this man. He had a right to defend his property!"

"The man had every right, in my opinion, to shoot this gator to protect his horses.”

Friends and family were shocked over Blanton's arrest. Now the family is not only dealing with the medical bills for the stepson but attorney fees.

Ironically, the statewide alligator hunting season began Monday.

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