By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
A 39-year-old man was arrested Friday after he reportedly accosted a Shoshone National Forest employee and damaged the worker’s vehicle.
Josiah Jurich later told the Park County Sheriff’s Office that he thought the employee was part of a large group of people who have been stalking him across the country and communicating amongst themselves via hand signals.
At his initial appearance in Park County Circuit Court Monday morning, Jurich pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of property destruction and breach of peace. However, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters opted to delay sentencing until next month and instead appointed a public defender to represent Jurich in the case.
It’s possible that a defense attorney will request a mental evaluation; charging documents indicate Jurich has mental health problems that stem from a traumatic brain injury he suffered while serving with the U.S. military in Iraq.
In an affidavit filed in support of the pending charges, Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Toohey said Jurich is “extremely paranoid” that he’s being stalked and harassed by a former employer.
“Jurich stated his ex-boss has been working with the U.S. Forest Service employees across the country to harass him while he has been trying to stay in secluded areas to flee from harassment,” Toohey wrote.
The suspect reportedly claimed that his former boss was tracking his calls and text messages and arranging for people to stalk him at each place he camps.
“Jurich stated … the U.S. Forest Service has hand signals to let each other know that Jurich is around,” Toohey wrote.
On Friday morning, Jurich said he saw a Forest Service employee “give a hand signal” at the Clay Butte pullout along the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) and decided to confront the man.
That federal worker soon called the sheriff’s office, reporting that, without any provocation, Jurich had tried getting inside his vehicle and threatened to kill him, breaking off the door handle in the process.
Deputy Toohey began responding to the area around 9:15 a.m. Friday. Toohey indicated in his affidavit that he had some familiarity with Jurich, writing that deputies and citizens had unspecified “previous encounters” with Jurich. Toohey also received word that the military veteran also had “multiple weapons” in his truck.
The deputy spotted Jurich’s 2019 Toyota Tacoma — which features a distinctive digital camouflage wrap — heading south on Wyo. Highway 296 toward Cody and he prepared to pull him over in a high-risk traffic stop.
“I drove as fast as my truck would allow to catch up to Jurich on the switchbacks, but he was driving at a very high rate of speed when we saw him above us,” Toohey wrote.
Jurich eventually parked at the Dead Indian Summit overlook, where there were many people, cars and bicyclists. As Toohey approached — emerging from his vehicle with rifle in-hand and with another deputy providing backup — he said Jurich was digging around in the bed of the truck. At one point, Toohey said Jurich threw a knife toward the front of the truck and said something to the effect of, “Let’s end this right now.”
However, the deputy was eventually able to take Jurich into custody without incident or injury. It was on the drive to the Park County Detention Center that the suspect shared his belief that the Forest Service employee “was involved in harassing him.”
“Jurich stated he didn’t mean to break the door handle, saying it seemed cheap and [he] didn’t know he was going to break it,” Toohey wrote.
Jurich, who previously lived in Hawaii and Oregon but now lists his residence as “transient,” appears to have shared many of his beliefs on a Facebook page; less than a half-hour before Friday’s altercation with the Shoshone National Forest employee, an account listed as Jurich’s said he’d be suing the U.S. Department of Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, the State of Oregon and “possibly others.”
In a February post, Jurich said he has brain damage and permanent nerve damage from a spine injury he suffered during his service with the U.S. Army.
Court records and media reports indicate that Jurich had been clearing a route outside Kirkuk, Iraq, in January 2005 when his group’s vehicle hit an anti-tank mine.
Jurich suffered injuries to his head and neck in the blast; shrapnel tore into the artery of another soldier in the vehicle, and that man has said it was the quick First Aid Jurich provided that saved his life.
Jurich received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart Medal for his service. However, he now needs “continuous treatment and care for mental and physical issues” stemming from the attack, attorneys wrote last year in a class action suit filed against the Iranian government by a group of U.S. soldiers.
They said Jurich “has experienced, and will continue to experience, severe physical and mental anguish and extreme emotional pain and suffering.”
A sentencing hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13, though that could change if an evaluation is ordered. In the meantime, Jurich is being held in jail, with bond set at $10,000.