Southern Utah man says girlfriend was shot because dogs knocked over a gun, police say

An Iron County man was arrested Wednesday after his girlfriend was shot in the back. The man told police the shooting occurred when his dogs knocked over a gun.

An Iron County man was arrested Wednesday after his girlfriend was shot in the back. The man told police the shooting occurred when his dogs knocked over a gun. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

BERYL, Iron County — A man was arrested Wednesday after police say he told them his girlfriend was shot in the back by accident after his dogs knocked over a gun, but then didn't call 911 because he had warrants out for his arrest.

James Allen Cox, 38, was booked into the Iron County Jail and charged Friday in 5th District Court with discharge of a firearm, a first-degree felony; possession of a weapon by a restricted person, a second-degree felony; failing to stop at the command of police, evidence tampering, and drug possession, class A misdemeanors; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor.

About 3 a.m. Wednesday, Cox took his girlfriend to a neighbor's home with a gunshot wound to her lower back. The Iron County Sheriff's Office was contacted and deputies responded to Beryl.

"The female stated the injury was accidental and caused by a firearm that was propped against a wall. The female stated the gun was knocked over by the dogs, causing it to discharge," according to a police booking affidavit. "It was further reported the male has warrants and did not want to get into trouble with the police."

The woman was taken by medical helicopter to a hospital in St. George where doctors "indicated the bullet is lodged in proximity to the spine and could cause additional injury to remove it. (The woman) also has paralysis in her right leg," the affidavit states.

Detectives interviewed the woman at the hospital. She told them that she and Cox had been having an ongoing argument on the property, which includes "several mobile home-style dwellings," police said.

The woman said she tried to separate herself from Cox and went into one of the other trailers. But Cox followed.

"James was upset and entered her trailer with a .22-caliber rifle under his arm," the affidavit states.

After continuing to argue, the woman started to walk out of the trailer. "As she was exiting the trailer several dogs came out with her. As (she) stepped off of the stairway to the ground, she heard a gunshot and felt immediate pain. James quickly apologized and said it was an accident," according to the affidavit.

About three hours after police were first called, deputies went to Cox's trailers. Deputies announced their presence but Cox refused to come out. The Iron County Metro SWAT team was called out and a warrant was obtained to enter the trailers on the property.

"Upon the warrant service James Cox, was located in one of the trailers on the property," deputies wrote.

When questioned, Cox insisted the shooting was an accident and that the dogs had knocked over a gun that was leaning against a wall. Investigators asked why he took his girlfriend to a neighbor's house instead of calling 911, and Cox replied that he was scared and knew that police would be coming and that he had warrants out for his arrest, according to the affidavit.

Investigators took measurements of the crime scene and determined an accidental discharge from the firearm falling on the ground would result in the woman being shot somewhere between her knee and lower butt, the affidavit states. Doctors determined she was shot in her lower lumbar area.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the team in 2021 after many years of reporting for the Deseret News


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