Just weeks after taking control of the Coastside Rancho Corral de Tierra property, the National Parks Service faces a groundswell of public outrage after a ranger used an electric Taser gun on Sunday to subdue a man whose initial crime was walking a dog off leash.
Park officials insist their ranger’s use of force was warranted by the situation, although they admit the incident was a step back in relations with a neighborhood that already included skeptics.
The event occurred around 4:45 p.m. on Sunday when Montara resident Gary Hesterberg, 50, was walking with his two dogs near the southern edge of McNee Ranch State Park. A ranger working for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area stopped him for having one of his canines off leash. For now, all dogs are required to be on leash while on the federal Rancho Corral property. Eventually, National Parks officials say they plan a more nuanced approach, perhaps allowing off-leash dogs on some parts of the parkland.
In the GGNRA account, the ranger informed Hesterberg about the ban on loose dogs, and he complied, clipping a leash on his 13-pound rat terrier, “Jo-Jo.” Then things took a turn for the worse.
Witnesses say Hesterberg was told to wait while the ranger communicated on her radio. He repeatedly asked her why she was detaining him and if he was being cited. After a few minutes, he announced he was leaving and began to walk away, and the ranger grabbed him by the arm and ordered him again to stay put.
“We felt like he wasn’t doing anything,” observed Michelle Babcock, who witnessed the event while walking that afternoon. “The ranger was very rude — you could tell (the dog walker) wanted to be on his way, but she kept saying no.”
Hesterberg motioned to leave a second time, and the ranger unholstered her Taser and warned him she would use it. He asked her not to shoot, saying he had a heart condition that could be fatal if he was shocked. That’s when he turned his back to the ranger, apparently to walk away.
“Next thing I heard was what I thought was a pistol shot,” described John Barlett, another witness. “He let out a cry of agony as he fell on his back.”
He collapsed on the ground, and the ranger reportedly began shouting at him to turn over face down so she could handcuff him. It took “several” minutes before he could move, Barlett said, explaining the scene continues to disturb him.
San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies and paramedics arrived to help. Hesterberg was not injured, according to medics, except for a scrape from landing on the ground.
GGNRA officials say they are reviewing the incident, but so far they see no problem with the use of the Taser.
“It’s within the range of options available to a ranger, and it appears to us to fit within the permissible rules,” said Howard Levitt, GGNRA spokesman “At least twice, he attempted to leave the scene.”
Witness accounts tell only one side of the story, Levitt said. Before the Taser was used, Hesterberg lied when the ranger asked for his name, identifying himself as “Gary L. Jones,” according to the ranger’s report. The ranger was suspicious and was using her radio to get confirmation on his name as she ordered him to wait, Levitt said.
After being subdued with the Taser, Hesterberg was taken to jail on three misdemeanor charges, including walking his dog without a leash, giving false information and failing to follow an officer’s orders. Two witnesses delivered Hesterberg’s dogs back to his house, and informed his wife what had happened.
Released early Monday morning, Hesterberg said he had some “pretty ugly wounds” on his back from where the electrical prongs hit him. He declined to recount his experience on the record.
“I really want to tell my story very badly, but I have been advised by an attorney not to talk,” he said.
Within a matter of hours, the Taser incident generated cries of foul play among the close-knit dog-walking community in Montara. GGNRA took control of the Rancho Corral property in December, and some dog advocates fear the agency will fully prohibit dog walking.
“There is total outrage about this. Everyone thinks this is a total excessive use of force,” said Bill Bechtell, who runs the Montara Dog Blog and email group. “Tasers should only be used in self-defense. This guy was walking away and got Tasered in the back.”
Bechtell pointed out that the Rancho Corral property had no signs posted to warn dog walkers to use leashes. He wondered if every dog owner walking through the park will now be accosted by a ranger.
GGNRA officials say they meant to have rangers out at Rancho Corral mainly to educate the public on the new dog-leash rules. GGNRA has been trying to cultivate goodwill among the local community, Levitt said, but the Taser incident will probably take time to overcome.
“We’re brand-new owners and we pride ourselves on having good relations with neighbors, Levitt said. “And it’s unfortunate to have an incident like this.”
Story as reported on Monday, January 30:
A National Parks ranger subdued a Montara resident with a Taser Sunday afternoon, arresting the man after an argument unfolded about walking his dog without a leash at the Rancho Corral de Tierra open space.
The incident occurred around 4:45 p.m. when the man was walking two dogs near the southern edge of McNee Ranch State Park. A ranger working for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area stopped the man for having one of his dogs off-leash, which is restricted in certain areas of the Rancho Corral property.
An escalating argument ensued, according to John Barlett, a nearby resident who was walking in the area. The dog-walker was "defiant," Barlett said, daring the ranger as he began walking away, "Are you going to arrest me?"
That's when the ranger pulled out her Taser, according to Barlett.
"Next thing I heard was what I thought was a pistol shot," Barlett said. "He let out a cry of agony as he fell on his back."
The man collapsed on the ground, and the ranger began shouting at him to turn over face down so she could handcuff him. It took "several" minutes before he could move, Barlett said.
By this time, a few witnesses had gathered around to watch. The man began shouting out his home address so that someone could take his dogs back there.
San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies and paramedics were called out to the scene, and the man was ultimately delivered to jail on unspecified charges.
GGNRA officials said they could not immediately answer questions about the incident on Monday morning. Officials with the parks service said they are still confirming details of what happened.
Within a matter of hours, the Taser incident generated cries of foul play among the close-knit dog-walking community in Montara. GGNRA took control of the Rancho Corral property in December, and some dog advocates have accused the agency of trying to limit where they can take their canines off-leash.
"There is total outrage about this. Everyone thinks this is a total excessive use of force," said Bill Bechtell, who runs the Montara Dog Blog and email group. "I hope this guy hires an attorney because I think he's got a strong case."