Leash-Law Offender Says Ranger Went Too Far
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Disputing the park ranger's story, a man testified Tuesday that he thought he might die from the Taser blast given after he was caught walking his dog without a leash.
"It was like a shockwave going through me," Gary Hesterberg said on the stand. "It was completely overwhelming. Any mobility I had in my arms and legs was instantly gone. I never felt anything quite as intense as that Tasing. I remember having the thought, I hope this doesn't kill me."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley is presiding over Hesterberg's battery and false imprisonment claims against the United States of America stemming from the Jan. 29, 2012, incident. The 50-year-old had been jogging on a trail in Rancho Corral de Tierra with his two dogs, one of them off-leash, when a woman approached to warn him about the leash violation.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area had recently acquired the San Mateo park, and a new leash-law was about to go into effect.
Hesterberg testified that the woman who approached him, Sarah Cavallaro, never identified herself as a federal law enforcement officer, or even a park ranger.
Cavallaro asked Hesterberg for his name, address and date of birth, and told the man that he was not free to leave when the name he gave her, Gary Jones, did not check out with dispatch.
After radioing for backup, Cavallaro allegedly learned that the nearest ranger was miles away in San Francisco.
Hesterberg said he gave the fake name because "in the back of my mind I thought I didn't want to be put on some kind of man-walks-dog-off-leash list."
"It was a split-second decision," he continued. "If I had known she was law enforcement I would not have lied."
Hesterberg also said Cavallaro never answered repeated questions from him and a passerby about her identity. Her badge was not visible under her heavy jacket, and, had she made her authority known, he would have been more cooperative, he said.
After Hesterberg tried to leave twice, Cavallaro allegedly pulled her Taser.
"I said sarcastically, 'so you're going to Tase me now?" Hesterberg testified, adding that her aggressiveness seemed absurd.
As Cavallaro held him at Taser-point for several minutes, Hesterberg said he begged her not to use the Taser because of he had a heart condition.
"I felt panicked," Hesterberg testified. "I couldn't believe it had escalated to this point. I never dreamed it would go this far."
Hesterberg does indeed suffer from atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm associated with palpitations and chest pain that can lead to stroke. He said Cavallaro did not respond. "I remember she was shaking," he testified. "The Taser was physically shaking in her hand. It unnerved me because I could tell she was getting rattled."
When Hesterberg asked Cavallaro what her authority was, she allegedly replied: "The Constitution."
"I thought that was a cop-out answer," Hesterberg testified. "I said, 'that's no kind of answer,' and I said "come on dogs, we're leaving.' I didn't get very far."
While Cavallaro said in testimony Monday that Hesterberg had started to jog away, he said Tuesday that he had only walked a step or two before she shot him with the Taser. He fell to the ground.
Michael Leonesio, a retired Oakland police officer, Taser safety expert and use-of-force consultant for various Bay Area police departments, said Cavallaro had no reason to use a Taser on Hesterberg as his resistance was very low-level and his crime fairly minor.
"I don't see an immediate threat in any of it," Leonesio testified. "Even when you look at the totality, it was a very, very low level of resistance. He was actually compliant throughout most of this."
Leonesio said the incident would have likely never happened had Cavallaro simply told Hesterberg who she was and who she worked for.
"The No. 1 thing that stands out to me to this day - and I have a lot of experience talking to people who don't want to talk to police - is that it would have gone a long way for her to introduce herself," he said. "Several times she was asked what's your authority and who do you work for. Just because you're standing there in a uniform doesn't give you authority."
Leonesio said Cavallaro's call for backup signaled that she had lost control of the situation. "Needing to have cover and to have cover for a dog-leash violation - and I understand it was because he was running away - but even so it's something that a reasonably trained officer should have been able handle without calling for backup."
He noted that lots of people give fake names to law enforcement. "I can't tell you how many people have given me a fake name," Leonesio said. "Suspecting you receive false information, the first thing you want to do is clarify."
Ultimately it was Cavallaro's decision to detain Hesterberg that proved her biggest error, the witness said. "I would just turn around and walk away," Leonesio said. "A lot of cops would say you should pursue this person, but why?"