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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Park Ranger Sure Likes Her Taser

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal park ranger Tasered a man running with his little dogs and had him held in jail for eight hours, apparently for a leash law violation, the man claims in court.

Gary Hesterberg sued the United States of America and National Park Service Ranger Sarah Cavallaro in Federal Court.

Hesterberg claims he was running trails in Rancho Corral de Tierra in San Mateo County with his leashed beagle and an unleashed rat terrier. The land had recently been transferred to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Park Service.

That month, January 2012, "there was a change in the NPS leash rule such that dog owners were no longer allowed to walk their dogs off-leash in Rancho Coral de Tierra," Hesterberg says in the complaint. "This change in the leash rule was not well-publicized, and at the time of this incident, the trails where plaintiff ran with his dogs were not posted with any signage to inform park users of the rule change."

Hesterberg says he saw Cavallaro approaching and put his terrier on a leash.

"Defendant Cavallaro did not identify herself to plaintiff, and plaintiff did not know who she was, who employed her, or that she was a law enforcement officer," the complaint states.

"Defendant Cavallaro issued plaintiff a verbal warning for having had his Rat Terrier off-leash and told plaintiff that she was going to let him go with the warning. She specifically told him that she was not issuing him any citation."

Hesterberg says Cavallaro radioed her dispatcher and that "After some minutes passed, plaintiff told defendant Cavallaro something to the effect of, 'You've given me the warning, and if there is nothing further, I'm going to leave.' Defendant Cavallaro responded with something like, 'No, you're not free to leave.'"

Two witnesses arrived, named Babcock, and watched the confrontation, he says.

"Plaintiff again informed defendant Cavallaro something to the effect of, 'If you're not going to cite me, you're going to have to let me be on my way.' Then plaintiff turned to leave in protest of defendant Cavallaro's unlawful actions," the complaint states. "In retaliation for plaintiff's exercise of his rights, speech, and expressive conduct, defendant Cavallaro yelled at plaintiff and forcefully grabbed his arm.

"Plaintiff protested defendant Cavallaro's physical seizure and then asked her, 'Am I under arrest?' Defendant Cavallaro did not answer plaintiff's question. Instead, she told him, 'You can't leave.'

"Plaintiff pulled his arm away from defendant Cavallaro and again asked her something to the effect of, 'What's your authority to detain me?' Again, defendant Cavallaro did not identify herself or her authority to detain plaintiff."

Hesterberg says he told Cavallaro that he was going to leave, and she told him again that he couldn't.

"Around this time, defendant Cavallaro unholstered her Taser and pointed it towards plaintiff in a threatening manner. Plaintiff told defendant Cavallaro something to the effect of, 'You're going to Tase me now? Do not Tase me. I have a heart condition.' Mr. Babcock told defendant Cavallaro, 'Hey, that's illegal.'

"Plaintiff again asked Defendant Cavallaro something to the effect of, 'What's your authority?' Defendant Cavallaro replied only, 'The Constitution.'

"Plaintiff told defendant Cavallaro something like, 'That's no kind of answer. I'm leaving.' Then plaintiff said, 'Come on, dogs, let's go,' and again began to walk away with his two small dogs in protest of defendant Cavallaro's unlawful actions.

"Without any warning, defendant Cavallaro fired her Taser at plaintiff, shooting him in the back with the Taser's razor-sharp, barbed probes. On information and belief, defendant Cavallaro Tased plaintiff for a five-second cycle.

"Plaintiff immediately fell hard to the ground, ending up on his back. Plaintiff was screaming, thinking to himself, 'I hope I don't die,' and unable to move normally for at least several seconds."

Hesterberg claims Cavallaro ordered him to roll onto his stomach and put his hands behind his back so that she could handcuff him, but he could not, because of the effects of the shock.

San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies arrived, rolled him onto his stomach and cuffed him. He was handcuffed for three hours, Hesterberg says.

The Babcocks took Hesterberg's dogs home. Hesterberg 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, he says.

He seeks punitive damages for civil rights, assault, battery, false arrest and negligence.

He is represented by Michael Haddad with Haddad & Sherwin in Oakland.

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