Civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin announced Thursday that it has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Gary Hesterberg, an electrician from Montara, who was Tased by a National Park Service ranger after having one of his two small dogs off-leash.
Hesterberg had previously in compensation from the United States and the ranger for his injuries and the violation of his civil rights.
According to a prepared press release announcing the lawsuit, during the incident in question, the NPS ranger, Sarah Cavallaro, gave Hesterberg a verbal warning about a new park rule requiring all dogs to be leashed and said she would let him go with the warning. When Cavallaro continued to detain Hesterberg and repeatedly refused to identify herself or her authority, Hesterberg attempted to walk away with his dogs. Cavallaro refused to allow Hesterberg to leave and ultimately shot him in the back with her Taser, caused him to be arrested, and had him taken to jail. There were no signs in the park alerting people to the new leash-only rule.
“There is something seriously wrong when walking your dog off leash in a National Park can get you Tased,” said Michael J. Haddad, Hesterberg’s attorney. “The law is clear that an officer may only Tase someone who poses a substantial and immediate threat. All Gary Hesterberg did was walk away after receiving his leash warning.”
The incident occurred on Jan. 29, 2012 in the Rancho Corral de Tierra portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area near Montara.
Rep. Jackie Speier has denounced Ranger Cavallaro’s actions and the National Park Service’s decision to clear the ranger of any potential discipline for her conduct. As Speier told the San Francisco Chronicle last August, Cavallaro’s use of the Taser “reeks of inappropriate use of power. And the way they’ve handled it since they completed the investigation reflects a sense of arrogance.”
The United States Department of the Interior, which manages the NPS, found that Ranger Cavallaro’s conduct was consistent with NPS policies. In a July 25, 2013 letter to Hesterberg’s counsel, the DOI’s Office of the Solicitor informed Hesterberg’s attorneys that, “From our review of the circumstances surrounding the tasing for Mr. Hesterberg, it appears that the officer’s actions were reasonable…. 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.”
Beyond that conclusion, the National Park Service has not made details of this investigation public or shared its findings with Hesterberg and his attorneys.
“The National Park Service has told us that their current policy allows rangers to Tase anyone in a situation like this, said Haddad. "That leaves us no choice but to take them to Court to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”