On January 29, 2012, Gary Hesterberg went for a run through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Montara. He brought along his two dogs, a beagle, which was on a leash, and a rat terrier, which was not. A month-old policy prohibited unleashed dogs at the park, though, so Ranger Sarah Cavallaro stopped the 51-year-old electrician.
After an exchange, as Hesterberg attempted to walk away, and Cavallero tased him. He filed a $500,000 claim with the National Park Service. The government agency, however, cleared the ranger of any wrongdoing, asserting that Hesterberg had been uncooperative and Cavallero properly followed protocol.
But that dogfight is only heating up. Today, Hesterberg filed suit against the federal park, claiming his civil rights were violated.
Witnesses told the Chronicle that, when Hesterberg aksed Cavallero why he was being detained, she did not respond. So, according to Hesterberg's account, he tried to walk away three times: the first time, Cavallero grabbed him by the arm; the second time she shouted at him and pointed her taser at him; the third time, she fired the taser, striking him in the back. Hesterberg claims that he had asked her not to tase him because he had a heart condition.
San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies arrived to arrest Hesterberg. He sat in jail for a few hours, but the District Attorney decided not to press any charges.
From the park service's perspective, Hesterberg caused the trouble by giving Cavallero a fake name and refusing to obey her orders to stay at the scene. In June Frank Dean, general superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area stated in a letter that the ranger's actions were "within policy and consistent with the training she received."
Rep. Jackie Speier, of San Mateo County, who received the letter, took Hesterberg's side, declaring that the taser use "reeks of inappropriate use of power," and that the park service's subsequent investigation into the incident "reflects a sense of arrogance."
But the parks institutions stood firm. A letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior to Hesterberg's lawyers agreed with the NPS's conclusion:
"From our review of the circumstances surrounding the tasing for Mr. Hesterberg, it appears that the officer's actions were reasonable," it read. "Based upon the facts of the case, the officer's use of force was neither a violation of generally accepted law enforcement standards nor of the policies and procedures governing a park service law enforcement officer's use of force."
Hesterberg's legal team argues that Cavallero overreacted in her attempt to detain him -- especially considering that the leash law had only been in place for a few weeks and that there were no signs alerting dog walkers of the new policy.
"The law is clear that an officer may only tase someone who poses a substantial and immediate threat," attorney Michael J. Haddad said in a statement. "All Gary Hesterberg did was walk away after receiving his leash warning."