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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Detention of Leash-Law Violator Passes Muster

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A park ranger did not unlawfully detain the man she Tasered after he challenged her authority to stop him for walking his dog without a leash, a federal judge ruled.

Gary Hesterberg claims the incident happened in January 2012 while he was running the trails in Rancho Corral de Tierra, in San Mateo County, with two small dogs. While Hesterberg had his beagle on a leash, his rat terrier was loose. The National Park Service (NPS) manages the land under its recent transfer to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

A new Park Service rule that had just taken effect required visitors to keep their dogs on a leash in Rancho Coral de Tierra. Hesterberg said the rule change was not well publicized and no signs were posted to inform park users of the change.

Unsure whether the rule had taken effect, Hesterberg allegedly put his terrier on a leash when he saw NPS ranger Sarah Cavallaro approaching. He said Cavallaro did not identify herself, but issued a verbal warning to Hesterberg for having had his dog off-leash.

Although Hesterberg provided Cavallaro with his accurate address and date of birth, he lied and told her his name was "Gary Jones." Cavallaro then radioed dispatch for verification of Hesterberg's identity.

Cavallaro told Hesterberg he was not free to go and grabbed his arm when he ignored her.

As Hesterberg continued to protest, Cavallaro allegedly pulled out her Taser. Hesterberg said he then warned the ranger that he had a heart condition and that she was illegally detaining him. As the 50-year-old turned around to walk away, Cavallaro fired the Taser at him, causing him to fall to the ground, according to his complaint.

San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies then arrived on the scene and cuffed Hesterberg. He was taken to jail, where he remained until 12:30 a.m., some eight hours after the initial confrontation. No charges were pursued against him, according to his complaint.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley refused to grant Hesterberg summary judgment on his claims for battery and false imprisonment or arrest in November 2013. The government then moved for summary judgment on Hesterberg's false-arrest claim, as well as his negligence claim to the extent that it rests on the theory that he was unlawfully detained.

Though the court found that Cavallaro's initial stop of Hesterberg for having his dog off leash was lawful, Hesterberg argued that the continued detention to run a warrants check was unrelated to his initial stop and therefore illegal.

Corley agreed with the government Friday that Hesterberg's continuted detention was proper because Cavallaro needed to verify his identity to include him in a database of leash-law violators.

Both Cavallaro and the dispatcher who received Cavallaro's call testified that a single process involves the ascertainment of Hesterberg's identity to place him in the local database and the running of a warrants check.

"No rational jury could conclude that Cavallaro's continued investigation into the leash-law infraction was limited to only searching for outstanding warrants; rather, the undisputed facts establish that verifying Hesterberg's identity to include in the database of leash-law violators and running a check of outstanding warrants were separate reasons for continuing to detain Hesterberg, with both inquiries occurring at the same time," Corley wrote.

Verifying Hesterberg's identity also constitutes part of Cavallaro's initial investigation into the leash-law violation because she needed his information to include in the local database that records leash-law contacts for future reference, the court found. Violators who receive an oral warning go into the database so that if they violate the same law again, the officer who stops them will be aware of the prior warning.

"Because it is undisputed that Cavallaro's authority to issue warnings for leash-law violations included the authority to verify a violator's identity and place that violator's name in the database, Cavllaro's 'mission' in issuing the warning reasonably included verification of Hesterberg's identity," Corley found.

It was therefore not illegal for Cavallaro to continue to detain Hesterberg while she tried to ascertain his identity, the ruling states.

Because the warrants check and the identification verification are part of a simultaneous process, and Hesterberg delayed this process by giving Cavallaro false identifying information, the constitutionality of the warrants check is not at issue, according to the ruling.

Hesterberg's claims for assault and battery remain.

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