Editor's note: This letter, sent to National Park Service Golden Gate Superintendent Frank Dean and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, was provided to Pacifica Patch by the author, Julianna Wahlmeier.
Dear Superintendent Dean and Director Jarvis:
I am writing to let you know I am extremely concerned about the where the female ranger tasered a man in the back for failing to have his dog on leash--a violation of a newly implemented rule as of December 2011 in that area.
I often walk my dogs in GGNRA. I follow all leash rules, but am immediately concerned after reading this article that you might have changed some of the provisional rules in areas I walk my dogs (Chrissy Field and Fort Funston) without me noticing the change. The whole GGRNA is still under a provisional and intermediary plan which makes this incident even more troubling. While the rules have not changed now, it is certainly conceivable that they might (and are in fact scheduled to under your proposal) and I would not be aware of the change or timing of the change. I don't deserve to be tasered for not being aware of a rule change in the shifting landscape of the GGNRA dog-walking rules.
I am also highly concerned by the lack of training and judgment utilized in this park ranger's use of force. According to National Park Service's guidelines in NPS Director's Order 9:
"The only justifications for the use of force are:
- To defend self
- To defend others
- To effect an arrest
- To restrain or control violent, threatening, or resistive behavior, or to disperse an unlawful group."
According to a witness account published in the January 31, 2012 article by Camden Swita on Pacifica Patch:
“According to her written account, Hesterberg seemed confused as to why he was being held at the scene while the ranger contacted her “base”.
“After ten minutes the man asked her again to let him know why he could not leave or just cite him but she gave him no answer,” Babcock wrote. “My husband even asked her why she was not letting the man go on his way and she told him to stay out of it. Eventually, the man just started walking in our direction so he could go home. This really upset the park ranger and she told him to stop and that he could not leave. Once again the man asked why and just told her to give him a ticket or let him know if he was being arrested. Note that he had already leashed his two small dogs and was puzzled at the fact that he could not leave.”
Babcock also attests that Hesterberg said he had health problems before the ranger deployed her stun gun.
“Since she did not respond as to why he was being detained nor tell him the type of jurisdiction she had over him, he started to walk away and she told him that she would tase him if he walked another step. The man replied that he had a heart condition and to not Taser him as it could be life threatening,” Babcock wrote. “He gave her his back to look at me and my husband in disbelief to what was going on and the park ranger fired her Taser at him.”
According to this account the man did ask the ranger why he was being detained, and the ranger didn’t respond. Other accounts I read said the ranger said she was, “waiting on base”. Despite not telling the man why he was being detained, the ranger repeatedly told the man to stay, but did not actually cite him or arrest him. In the United States, we can only be detained if there is reasonable suspicion that the detained individual was involved in, or about to be involved in a crime. A crime of walking a dog off-leash? This is rule violation, and this type of offense is typically handled by citing and fining the individual—not arresting them. For arrest, the park ranger needed to possess an even higher standard of probable cause that the individual had committed a crime. Again, a crime of walking a dog off-leash in an area that had just made an unpublicized rule change prohibiting walking dogs off-leash less than 2 months after decades where walking dogs off leash was allowed? In the case of detention, courts have found that it is reasonable for a person to leave after a short period of time. After repeatedly asking for the reason he was being detained, and not provided an answer over at least 10 minutes (and that was just the time the witness was present), it certainly seems to be reasonable behavior for the man to think he was free to go. If the ranger was detaining the man to verify his identity, she should have told him so when he asked. According to witnesses, she didn’t. And when the man requested that he be cited, arrested or allowed to leave, she refused to respond. Instead, according to witness accounts, she repeatedly told him to “stay” and not why, as if he was in fact a dog, and not a U.S. citizen with rights. I rarely carry ID when out walking my dogs, but I still expect to be treated with respect and courtesy by park rangers. The park ranger's training should be sufficient to understand basic civil rights.
If the park ranger had doubt about his identity, she could have followed him to his car or his house. She could have requested that back-up do so at the trail exit (she apparently had a radio with her). She could have even used discretion and just gave him a warning that she would ticket him next time (supposedly she was there to ‘educate’ GGNRA visitors to the new rules). You can not verify everyone's names via the telephone. He could have given an acquaintance's name (not his). He could have been from out-of-state or from another country. The GGNRA does attract tourists. Last time I checked, the U.S. had not turned into Nazi Germany and I am not required to carry "papers" or ID on us at all times (especially not carry papers or be tased).
Again, nothing in the above witness account (or others I’ve read) stated that the man was ever informed that he was being arrested--not until after she tased him. Going back the policy stated in Director’s Policy #9, this is not a lawful use of force by your own policy. The tasering was not to defend herself, to defend others, to effect an arrest, to restrain or control a violent person. It can’t be considered an effectuation of an arrest, when he was not informed, despite asking, that he was being arrested. All witness accounts say that he wasn’t violent and was in fact walking away as proven by the fact that the ranger tased him in the back.
If the man did inform the park ranger that he had a heart condition right before he was tasered (and why would the witness lie about this?), then the park ranger did not just use unwarranted and excessive force, she used potentially deadly force in response to a rule violation. It makes me literally sick to my stomach to think that one of your park rangers is so power- and authority-mad that they have no regard for human life! She could have easily killed the man. People die from being tasered all the time--especially if they have a heart condition.
In the NPS Director's Order 9, "Commissioned employees may use deadly force only when necessary; i.e. when the ranger, special agent or USPP officer has an objectively reasonable belief, in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the ranger, agent or officer, that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the ranger, agent or officer, or to another person." So how does the rule violation of walking dogs off leash satisfy this standard? If he did lie about his name, how does that satisfy the standard? If he did disobey the lawful order (which I still don’t see that any order to stay for an unspecified reason is lawful), then how does that even qualify under the NPS standard for potentially deadly use of force?
I am extremely troubled by the handling of this situation by the NPS. Your spokesman Director Levitt stated the ranger is still on duty. How is this possible given the excessive use of force? And, if she was told he had a heart condition, potentially deadly use of force? She should be suspended with pay pending the investigation. It terrifies me that she is still working in the GGNRA where I visit five times a week. You are putting the public at risk to have a park ranger who has demonstrated a complete lack of rational, reasonable and justified response continuing to patrol the GGRNA.
You identify the man's name in everything but refuse to name the park ranger. According to witness reports, she also refused to identify herself when the man asked. You are a public agency and her salary is paid by tax dollars. The public has a right to know her name, especially given your lack of discretion in publishing his name. And especially given that the NPS’s primary reason for why he deserved to be tasered was that he wouldn't provide his accurate name to the park ranger. And now you won't name her to the public? Why does she deserve to be anonymous when she is a public servant performing a public function but a citizen of the U.S. walking his dogs does not? Talk about irony.
I want to see this ranger named, held accountable to the public for her actions, and if witness accounts are accurate (and why would they lie?) fired. I think the NPS should apologize to this man. Further, the NPS should assure visitors to the GGNRA that we won't be unreasonably tasered by power-mad and authority-crazy park rangers. Finally, the NPS should inform the public as to how it ensures that its park rangers are adequately trained, and how it will ensure that the public is adequately informed about changing rules. The NPS ranger’s method of “education” by tasering should not be allowed to continue.
Julianna Wahlmeier, San Francisco resident
To read Patch's ongoing coverage of this incident, visit our topic page.