Park rangers taser 
camper at Muir Beach

07/10/2014

A man illegally camping on Muir Beach was subdued with a taser last month after reportedly assaulting a park ranger and fleeing on foot toward a Buddhist retreat center. 

On Saturday, June 28, two Golden Gate National Recreation Area rangers approached a man and his Doberman pinscher in a wildlife protection area near dunes. When the rangers let him know he could not camp there, the man became confrontational; he took off running toward Green Gulch Zen Center, where a group was outside, said park spokeswoman Alexander Picavet. The man injured one ranger, and another ranger was injured in the process of catching up to him. After backup arrived, a taser was deployed to detain him, Ms. Picavet said.

Even inside the ranger’s vehicle, the man was still belligerent, Ms. Picavet said, trying to kick out the car’s window and inflicting other damage. He was transferred to the county jail on charges of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. (The Marin County Sheriff’s Office could not confirm the assailant’s identity from among the 18 people booked in jail that day.) The county’s animal control, which contracts with Marin Humane Society, dealt with the dog, Ms. Picavet said. 

National Park Service regulations for “electronic control devices”—the agency’s preferred term for tasers—came under intense scrutiny in 2012 after a 50-year-old man running on San Mateo County trails was tasered by a ranger. He was initially stopped for having one of his two dogs off leash, but the situation escalated when he gave a false name and “refused to heed repeated orders to remain at the scene,” said G.G.N.R.A. spokesman Howard Levitt. Months later, Congresswoman Jackie Speier criticized the park service for dragging its feet in disclosing the results of an internal investigation. 

The park service “needs to reassure park visitors that force will only be used when absolutely required on the rarest occasions when a person is actively resisting a law enforcement officer,” she said. “As it stands, the current NPS policy is overly broad, flawed and allows rangers far too much discretion as to when they can use tasers.”  

A 2009 law enforcement guide for park rangers authorizes the use of force whenever “reasonable,” not as seen from “the calm vantage point of hindsight,” but from the perspective of an officer making a split-second decision in a “tense, unpredictable and rapidly evolving” situation. Non-lethal force is appropriate in five cases, the policies say: for a ranger to defend herself, to defend others, to effect an arrest when other force would be ineffective, to check “violent, threatening or resistive behavior” and to disperse an unlawful gathering.

The manual says trained rangers may carry Taser International’s X-26 or Advance M-26 models, which pierce a person with two small barbs that send the same electrical impulses through the nervous system, interrupting sensory and motor functions.

It remains unclear whether those rules have been updated since the latest publicly posted policies from 2009, three years before the dog walker was shocked. Emails this week to the federal headquarters asking for clarification went unanswered.

Last Monday afternoon, someone calling from Green Gulch said he had some items belonging to the tasered man and wanted to return them, but had learned from the jail that the man was no longer in custody.