The National Parks Service is investigating a ranger’s in subduing a Montara resident before arresting him in the Rancho Corral de Tierra open space area Sunday afternoon.
The ranger, who the NPS is not naming at this time, claims Gary Hesterberg was illegally walking one of his dogs off-leash, knowingly gave her a fake name when she questioned him and tried to flee the scene after she told him several times to stay, Howard Levitt, spokesman for the service, said.
She also said she pursued Hesterberg for a bit before using her stun gun to stop him.
But Levitt said that the ranger wasn’t there Sunday afternoon even to write tickets for off-leash dogs let alone arrest anyone or to use force. Rather, she was there to educate dog walkers about the new leash laws the service is imposing since Rancho Corral de Tierra was absorbed into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 2011.
The encounter “moved into a different realm” when Hesterberg, who wasn’t carrying ID, gave her a fake name, Levitt said.
“Routinely, when a law enforcement officer of any kind encounters a contact, even if it’s for education purposes, the first question is going to be who they are talking to, for identification or for someone’s name,” Levitt explained. “He didn’t have ID and gave a name that turned out to not be his actual name, that in checking that out—it’s standard procedure to run somebody’s name when you’re dealing with someone who might be a danger—she asked him to remain on the scene, as we understand it, and more than once he refused to stay there.”
In other words, Levitt said, the ranger claims this had gone beyond anything related to an off-leash dog.
Still, the NPS will now interview any possible witnesses and review the apparent facts of the incident to determine if, even in this “different realm”, the use of force on Hesterberg was warranted and the ranger properly followed all procedures, Levitt said.
Levitt said there’s no Use of Force handbook, as it were, that would set definitive rules for when using a stun gun is okay and when it is not.
“There is obviously an entire range of options available to them, lots of factors that go into making the decision,” Levitt said. “We’re reviewing the incident, there’re a variety of tools and processes and procedures they have available to them.”
Rangers also carry guns, pepper spray and clubs, Levitt said.
In 2009, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a judicial standard for the use of a stun gun by police, which would include park rangers as they have the role of a law officer on park property.
In that 3-0 ruling, Judge Kim Wardlaw said, "the objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public."
Wardlaw went on to say that a stun gun must be used when substantial force is required and other options have been exhausted.
Michelle Babcock said she witnessed nearly the entire encounter between the ranger and Hesterberg with her husband Sunday afternoon, although she arrived too late to hear if Hesterberg had given the ranger a fake name.
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.”
Levitt said he had not seen, in the ranger’s account, anything about Hesterberg warning her of a heart condition.
The ranger has not been suspended or put on leave during the NPS investigation, and as to what the consequences may be if the service determines she used her stun gun without proper cause, Levitt said it’s hard to tell right now.
Hesterberg was charged with walking his dog off-leash in an area where it is prohibited, knowingly providing a law officer with false information and resisting arrest. He was released from county jail in Redwood City Monday morning.
The incident has left Babcock and her husband confused, if anything, she said.
"How is it possible you would Taser him because initially he didn’t have his dog on a leash?" she wondered in an interview via phone. "It didn’t seem right. How did it get to that point? It’s a very quiet place, there hasn’t been any enforcement there for a very long time. To come in and have something like that happen seems aout of place.”