NPS Investigating Use of Stun Gun in Leash Law Incident

Encounter entered "different realm" when Montara man gave ranger a fake name, an NPS spokesman said.

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.”

benjamin February 01, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Of note: In 2009, the U.S. 9Th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that tasers cannot be used unless there is an immediate threat to an officer or someone nearby Unless NPS maintains that Mr. Hesterberg's backside, slowly moving away from the ranger, constitutes an immediate threat, I suspect said ranger may be looking at a bright future in some other profession apart from law enforcement soon. > “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. If this holds true and the ranger failed to positively state that he was being detained (and why) and charged with a violation, this will not go well for NPS. You don't have to ID yourself unless you're being charged or investigated or detained for a stated purpose.
Day-Oh February 01, 2012 at 12:43 AM
"..it’s standard procedure to run somebody’s name when you’re dealing with someone who might be a danger.." For crying out loud, the guy was walking his dog off its leash. How much of "a danger" does that represent? I hope he sues the pants off the NPS. There's such a thing as a proportional response. This doesn't sound like anything close to that.
BIG HENRY February 01, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Less Rambo and more Columbo should have been the response here. Communication skills are essential in all walks of life, and particularly in law enforcement circles where it can both diffuse a potentially dangerous situation and at the same time educate folks as to their legal responsibilities. This could have been an instructive rather than destructive moment in time, whereby the dog-walker received timely advice on new regulations in force and the officer could have given herself a pat on the back as an educator. Now it's a black-eye for the NPS and the gentlemen will likely sue. This lose-lose should have been a win-win.
Jerry Donovan February 01, 2012 at 04:27 PM
As a former police officer, I know there are a few steps in use of force before tasing a dog walker. What if she missed? Would she shoot the man as he continued to walk away from her? Try verbal commands, physical restraint, chemical restraint, use of baton, then a taser if suspect is aggressive towards you before even considering lethal force (firearm). Get her off the trails and retrain her and all the rangers while you're at it.
Donovan February 01, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Most of the time, I agree with people that police need to use less force. HOWEVER, once you start playing games with the police, giving fake names, and not following their instructions, don't be surprised when they shoot you with something. Once this man gave her a fake name, he lost all right to consider himself a victim. Why would you do that unless you were incredibly stupid, or had something to hide?
K February 02, 2012 at 02:59 AM
I look forward to resolution of this.
benjamin February 02, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Donovan, I appreciate your perspective, but in point of fact there are standards of conduct for law enforcement that still apply even if someone has given a false identity. He did not in fact "lose all right to consider himself a victim", if in fact he was subject to a taser without exhibiting behavior that calls for it. No less than the 9th circuit court of appeals, the office of Rep. Spiers, and the comments of former law enforcement professionals here, concur with that. Yep, he made a mistake. But the ranger's response in terms of her application of a taser appear to directly contradict a federal court of appeals ruling regarding the use of tasers, in 2009. As has been noted here and elsewhere prior, there's a concept in law enforcement of proportionate response. This wasn't proportionate. It was quite obviously disproportionate, based on the published accounts. And therein lies the rub. "Why would you do that unless you were incredibly stupid, or had something to hide?" What if you felt simply defiant? What if you simply disagreed with the policy and decided to resist it? Is it a poor choice to exhibit resistant behavior in that moment instead of cooperating and registering your disagreement through other means after the fact? Yes, perhaps. Should you be shot with an electrocution weapon in the back as a result if you choose otherwise, under the circumstances (having been observed walking a small lapdog off leash)? Hell no!
Rebecca Lorenz February 03, 2012 at 05:13 AM
"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." Part of the problem with the story is that Ms. Babcock did not hear the entire conversation so we do not know about any verbal exchange between the dog-walker and the ranger. Why would the ranger have called her "base" for this sort of incident? Was she afraid? Did the dog-walker give the name of some criminal? It will be good to get the entire story on this as it is very puzzling. Maybe even bizarre.
Sabrina Brennan February 07, 2012 at 12:54 AM
I was attacked and bitten by a neighbors dog a couple years ago while riding my bike on the Pillar Point Bluff segment of the Coastal Trail. The dog that bit me was running off leash with a pack of dogs. I crested a hill and saw the dogs running towards me. The owner of the dogs was not in sight. After the attack the own arrived and I showed her the broken skin and bite mark on my leg. The owner never apologized.
Bhatman February 07, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I read elsewhere that there were other witnesses to this event (other then Babcock) who differ substantially with her statement. I wish those witnesses would speak out publicly. It seems that it was statement's like Babcock's that have driven most of the "outrage" against this public servant, to the extent that even Jackie Speier has taken the bait. Let's hope that the investigation is thorough, including whether any statement made by any witness was truthful or for the purposes of furthering an agenda. since this event happened on Federal land to a Ranger it is raised to a higher level. Did you know that it is a crime to tell a lie either in writing or orally to an agent of the federal government? If a witness lied, this would be a good time to lawyer-up.
hutch February 07, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Disobey a peace officer and face the consequences. Want to test this? Get pulled over by CHP, refuse to give ID, then drive away.
K February 07, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Hutch, not a similar situation at all. CHP pulls you over, with cause, you are legally required to prove you are licensed to drive. This person was not required to have ID and was not given notification he was being detained. Lastly, non-lethal force was used inappropriately. That happens in CHP stops too, with repercussions for the officer. Being a Jerk != Tase.
hutch February 07, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Okay, dump garbage on the street, refuse to show ID and walk away from a cop who is ordering you to stay put. Same result. The dog guy had zero respect for the female Ranger. She warned him several times and he just kept teasing and disobeying her. He deserved what he got.
K February 07, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Hutch, dump garbage on the street, you are committing a crime, if the police officer detains you, you can't leave. You still are not required to have ID. But, he can detain you until he determines who you are, as you have broken a law. In this case, the Ranger was not going to site the person, and per what I'm reading didn't have the right to do so, though I don't think that was known at the time. If they aren't going to site the person, how can they detain them?
hutch February 07, 2012 at 07:21 PM
K, according to the witness the ranger ordered him to stay put. She was going to site him for having his dog off leash. He broke the law. I don't know how more clear it can be?
hutch February 07, 2012 at 07:37 PM
^ clearer
Deborah respond fair February 10, 2012 at 06:15 PM
During the two study periods, OPD officers recorded 890 use-of-Taser incidents. The policy change that increased the level of resistance that must be present to authorize deployment was made in June 2004. The change was made in an effort to mitigate the use of electronic control devices in low-intensity encounters. Moreover, the OPD reports that 93 percent of the 523 Taser deployments from June 2003 to June 2004 were used on suspects offering active resistance. The policy change raised the authorized level of resistance from passive resistance to active resistance. Effectively, this means that suspects must be actively resisting the actions of the officer—by pulling away or fleeing, not just passively resisting—for an electronic control device to be deployed. (From Taser Use and the Use-of-Force Continuum: Examining the Effect of Policy Change, By Michael E. Miller, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Legal Studies, South College, Knoxville, Tennessee; Captain (Retired), Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orlando, Florida http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2204&issue_id=92010, located online on 2/10/2012)


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