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Judge rules park ranger was wrong to use stun gun on dog walker

Judge rules park ranger was wrong to use stun gun on dog walker
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

More than two years ago, a Northern California man gave National Park Service ranger Sarah Cavallaro an attitude and was generally uncooperative as they discussed his off-leash dogs.

As Gary Hesterberg turned to leave, Cavallaro pulled the trigger on a stun gun, sending electric charges coursing into his back and buttocks.

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On Thursday a federal judge ruled that the park ranger's response to Hesterberg's apparent intransigence was inappropriate, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the time, Hesterberg was arrested by San Mateo County sheriff's deputies and booked for investigation of failing to obey a lawful order, but charges were never filed.

Although the presiding judge, Jacqueline Scott Corley, found that Hesterberg was not following Cavallaro's directions, she ruled that he didn't pose an immediate threat to her or anyone else — and that the park ranger didn't give him proper warning that she would shoot him with the stun gun if he turned to leave.

Corley awarded Hesterberg $50,000 in damages for physical and mental suffering.

The Jan. 29, 2012 incident at a park that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area drew a rebuke from U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who said the use of the stun gun appeared to be unwarranted.

The area where Hesterberg was walking a beagle named Jack and a rat terrier named JoJo, called the Rancho Corral de Tierra, had until the December tolerated off-leash dogs. But when the National Park Service took over the following month, that changed.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Cavallaro stopped Hesterberg to talk to him about the new rules, but the conversation became increasingly testy. Hesterberg testified that he gave the park ranger a fake name because "I don't want to be placed on some offending dog walker … list."

When Hesterberg told Cavallaro that he was leaving, the ranger pulled out the stun gun and called for backup. About four minutes later, she shot Hesterberg with the stun gun.

In a statement one of Hesterberg's attorneys, Michael Haddad, said: "Tasers can kill. They should never be used against a non-threatening person as the ranger did here."

Twitter: @hbecerralatimes 

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