Need for Context Stressed in Case of Ranger-Tased Jogger

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – When it comes to deciding whether a National Park Service ranger used reasonable force in Tasering an uncooperative jogger, context matters tremendously, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said.
     “The heart of this case is: Can you use a Taser because someone won’t do what you’re saying, regardless of what happened before it?” Corley said during closing arguments Tuesday.
     Her comment came as she grilled U.S. Attorney Mark Conrad over whether Gary Hesterberg’ s three attempts to walk away from the park ranger who detained him justified her use of a Taser to get his compliance.
     Hesterberg had been running with his two dogs Jack and Jo-Jo, one of them off-leash, in the Rancho Corral de Tierra, a park near his home in Montara, Calif., that had just been transferred to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
     During this transitional period, park rangers were issuing warnings to dog walkers about a new leash law. Hesterberg leashed his dog when he saw Ranger Sarah Cavallaro, who approached him and said she would not cite him for violating the law, but would let him off with a warning. Hesterberg said Cavallaro never identified herself, and he had no idea that she was a law enforcement officer with the authority to arrest him.
     Cavallaro did ask for his name, address and date of birth. Hesterberg told her his name was Gary Jones, which did not check out with dispatch. Cavallaro told Hesterberg he was not free to leave, though he did try to walk away three times.
     Cavallaro grabbed Hesterberg’s arm the second time he turned to go and then pulled her Taser on him. She held him at Taser-point for four minutes while she called for backup. Hesterberg asked her not to use the Taser because he had a heart condition. He asked her what gave her the authority to hold him, and she allegedly replied only with the “Constitution.” Hesterberg said. “That’s no kind of answer – ‘Come on, dogs, we’re leaving.” He turned away for the third time and she Tasered him in the back.
     Corley, who had heard testimony for four days, wondered how the situation had gone from a mere warning for a minor violation to a tasering that sent Hesterberg to the hospital, a situation that she said “seemed ludicrous.”
     “What was the point of the detention?” she asked.
     “To find out who he was,” Conrad answered.
     “Why was that important? Why was it so important that she had to Tase him?” Conrad started to answer that it was Hesterberg’s lie, but stopped. “Well, it sounds circular when you put it like that,” he said.
     But he added that the government has an interest in identifying people who violate even minor laws, and Cavallaro had reasonable suspicion that he had committed a second misdemeanor by giving a false name.
     Corley said there was no way Cavallaro could have known that Gary Jones wasn’t his real name, and wondered why she simply didn’t ask Hesterberg for clarification.
     “She clearly testified that she did not have probable cause. If she didn’t know, why didn’t she ask him?”
     “Her suspicion was overwhelming,” Conrad said, adding that she had “caught him” in a lie.
     “But how can she say she caught him? She testified that she did not have probable cause. I deal with reasonable suspicion and probable cause all the time, and it makes a big difference.”
     Corley also took issue with the insignificance of Hesterberg’s leash law violation, noting that by the time Cavallaro confronted him, he had already complied by leashing Jo-Jo. Did it matter, she asked, why he was being detained? Could Cavallaro use as much force as she could to get him to stay, regardless of his alleged crime?
     “What if he threw a gum wrapper on the ground?” she asked.
     “The Fourth Amendment does not require you to use discretion,” Conrad said.
     “The Fourth Amendment requires you to use only the force that’s necessary under the circumstances,” Corley replied. She added, “Here the law was, for the first time ever, being warned about and he complied. This has never been enforced in this location, ever. It’s not like we were at down at Chrissy Field or Fort Funston.”
     Corley then asked why Cavallaro didn’t simply let him go. “Why not just let him go? Why was it so important that the government can use intermediate force?”
     Conrad answered, “Because the government has an interest in identifying and detaining people who commit multiple offenses in their presence. There is no case that says as you have to let someone go rather than use intermediate force.”
     He added, “Many people see this case from the eyes of Gary Hesterberg. But the court has to look at it from the eyes of a law enforcement officer. We are all safer in a world where people who are stopped for obvious violations of the law are identified.”

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