Two years ago, Gary Hesterberg of Montara, California, took his two dogs, Beagle Jack and Rat Terrier JoJo, on a walk in the Rancho Corral de Tierra open space, something he’d done many times before. Dogs in the Rancho were always running free — the area is popular with dog walkers — and despite a law saying dogs had to be leashed, it was never enforced, according to SFGate.
With rolling hills and lush vegetation, the Rancho is a large undeveloped tract of land on the San Mateo coast, and it was recently added to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Authorities planned to begin enforcing the leash law, but, according to court documents, rangers were instructed to begin with “an educational approach or soft enforcement with regards to violations of the Rancho’s new rules,” according to court documents.
Enter Ranger Sarah Cavallaro. It was the first day of the new enforcement period, and she was out to give some hard education. She had her stun gun with her.
Cavallaro stopped Hesterberg and his little dogs, only one of whom was running around off -leash. She explained the new rules. According to court documents, the conversation got contentious. Apparantly Cavallaro wanted Hesterberg's name, but Hesterberg didn't want to give it to her and be labeled as someone who broke the leash law rules -- rules that had never been enforced. He gave her a fake last name. As he testified later, “I don’t want to be placed on some offending dog walker ... list.”
According to SFGate, the conversation "escalated" and Hesterberg said he was leaving. Cavallaro said he couldn't leave. She pulled out her stun gun and trained it on Hesterberg while she waited to get confirmation of his identify via radio.
They stayed that way for four minutes. Hesterberg told the ranger he had a heart condition. He asked her what authority he was being held under, according to SFGate.
"The Constitution," she replied.
Hesterberg decided this was as good a time as any to simply leave and continue his walk, and he did so.
Cavallaro decided this was as good a time as any to fire her stun gun, and she did so.
Witnesses were stunned. Michelle Babcock was walking with her two Border Collies, saw the exchange, and couldn't believe it.
"It was really scary. I just felt so bad for him," she told SFGate. "He just tried to walk away. She never gave him a reason [why he was being detained]."
Babcock said the ranger shot Hesterberg in the back as he walked off with his dogs.
"We were like in disbelief," she said. "It didn't make any sense."
Paramedics were called, and Hesterberg was arrested on suspicion of providing false information, failing to obey a lawful order, and keeping dogs off leash. San Mateo County prosecutors declined to file charges, according to SFGate.
Fast forward to today, and Hesterberg finally gets his due. A federal judge ruled that the ranger "acted unlawfully with unreasonable force" during her education trip out to the Rancho. The judge brushed away the "lying to the police officer" offense, given that it was in connection to a warning about a leash law violation. And while Hesterberg was "uncooperative," he didn't pose an immediate threat to Cavallaro. He was just walking his dogs. Hesterberg was awarded $ 50,000 in damages for physical and mental suffering.
What do you think about this? Did this ranger go too far in her mission educating people? Have you ever been confronted by authorities over your unleashed dogs in an area frequented by unleashed dogs? Let us know in the comments.
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