Ranger Uses Stun Gun On Man Walking Dogs Off-leash

Published February 1, 2012 12:27AM (EST)

MONTARA, Calif. (AP) — A man walking his dogs in a federal park overlooking the Pacific Ocean was hit with a stun gun and arrested by a park ranger who accused him of not tethering the animals and giving a false name, astonishing passers-by who say the reaction was excessive.

The ranger deployed the Taser stun gun on Gary Hesterberg on Sunday after he ignored the ranger's orders and tried to walk away, the National Park Service said. Hesterberg was allegedly walking his dogs without leashes in violation of the rules of Rancho Corral de Tierra, which was incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in December.

"It appears the incident began as one of several educational contacts that day about the NPS rules on dog-walking," said Howard Levitt, the recreation area's communications director. "But this one developed into a more serious law enforcement situation when the person being contacted provided false information."

Hesterberg allegedly refused to provide the ranger with printed identification, and she realized he had told her a false name when she called dispatchers to verify, Levitt said. While she was on the telephone, "the man failed to heed repeated orders to remain at the scene" and the ranger used her Taser, he said.

The encounter is being reviewed just like any other use of force by a law enforcement officer, Levitt said. The ranger, whom he would not identify, remains on the job, he said.

"Any law enforcement officer has a variety of means by which to insure compliance in a law enforcement situation, so the standard is they exercise reasonable judgment to ensure compliance in any situation they find themselves in," Levitt said.

A witness, Michelle Babcock, told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/y9rHph) the ranger never gave Hesterberg an explanation as to why he was being detained and then hit him with the stun gun in the back.

"He just tried to walk away," Babcock said. "She never gave him a reason. ... It didn't make any sense."

Calls to a telephone listing for Hesterberg were not immediately returned Tuesday. No one answered the door at Hesterberg's home in Montara, a coastal community in San Mateo County with about 3,000 residents.

A neighbor, Judith Rosenberg, said she heard about the incident from a woman who claimed to have witnessed it. Rosenberg, who was walking her own dog when she found out, said she complained in an email to federal park officials.

"I was very concerned they are tasering people just for not having their dogs on a leash," said the 55-year-old. "It just seems really excessive."

Rosenberg said the chief ranger for the recreational area replied with some details of the incident. In the response, which she shared with The Associated Press, Kevin Cochary said Hesterberg was "not compliant, tried to run away and lied to the investigating ranger about his name."

"We will look into this matter in depth," Cochary wrote.

Hesterberg was arrested on suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, having dogs off-leash and knowingly providing false information, Levitt said.

Rancho Corral de Tierra was privately owned until it became part of the recreation area in December. Residents were accustomed to letting their dogs roam there both on and off leashes, Levitt said.

The recreation area has proposed tougher rules for dog walkers, including requiring leashes in open spaces where dogs currently roam untethered and closing some popular dog-walking areas to canines. The ranger was trying to educate residents about the leash requirement, Levitt said.

Park service officials and environmentalists said they want to protect some 1,200 native plant and animal species, including the Snowy Plover, a federally endangered shorebird.

By Salon Staff

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