‘A horrible vibe.’ Rangers tackled, tased surfer over unleashed dog, CA lawsuit says
A big-wave surfer is suing the California Department of Parks and Recreation after he says two park rangers used excessive force against him during an encounter on a beach and injured his shoulder, hindering his ability to surf.
Shawn Rhodes, who owns Nor Cal Surf Shop in Pacifica and has made a career out of surfing big waves, was leaving Four Mile Beach with his dog, Yoda, off-leash on Aug. 12, 2020. Two park rangers approached him and asked why Yoda was not on a leash, according to the complaint, which was filed on Jan. 23.
Rhodes told them he would leash Yoda once he got to the top of a hill, but the rangers “tackled” him to the ground, and one used “martial arts holds” on him, the complaint says.
The ranger also “inexplicably tased” him multiple times, the complaint says.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement to McClatchy News that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Rangers used ’excessive force,’ lawsuit says
Rhodes told McClatchy News that during the incident he was “shocked.”
“I’ve been going there since I was 12,” he said of Four Mile Beach, which is located within Wilder Ranch State Park in the Santa Cruz area. “It’s kind of known as a place where people can take their dogs.”
At one point during the incident, one of the rangers hyperextended Rhodes’ arm “as far behind his back as possible” in order to handcuff him, the complaint says.
He told them that they were hurting his shoulders, but they did not stop, according to the complaint. When a supervisor arrived, Rhodes heard one of the rangers tell him that she’d apprehended Rhodes because he “did not listen,” the complaint says.
The rangers then put Rhodes in the back of a law enforcement vehicle without a seat belt and drove him to a hospital while accelerating sporadically, causing him to “fly across the vehicle’s backseat,” the complaint says.
Rhodes was charged with resisting arrest, but the charge was dismissed on Aug. 10, 2022, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says the rangers used excessive force and violated Rhodes’ civil rights.
’It’s stripped my ability to do what I love doing.’
Rhodes told McClatchy News that the shoulder injury has negatively impacted his ability to surf.
“She shredded my shoulder,” he said of one of the rangers. “That’s been a painful situation for surfing.”
He said doctors have told him that his shoulder is 65% torn. Shoulder strength and mobility are important for surfing, and the injury has prevented him from doing what he loves, he said.
“I can’t jump up fast, which means I can’t do what I’ve spent my whole life doing,” he said.
Rhodes has dedicated his career to surfing, especially big waves. He’s surfed the Mavericks, an area around 20 miles south of San Francisco that Surfer Today says is known for waves that can rise as tall as apartment buildings and that are some of the deadliest in the world.
“It’s pretty much my whole life,” he said of surfing. “My kids surf. I came from a surfing family. It’s my whole life.”
He used to go surfing three to five times a week, he said. Now, he hasn’t been in months. Doctors have told him he’ll need to have surgery on his shoulder in a few years.
“It’s a horrible vibe for the next couple years, and I’ve already been dealing with it for the last two years,” he said. “It’s stripped my ability to do what I love doing.”
Other than seeking an unspecified amount of damages for expenses, including lost wages and medical costs, Rhodes said that through the lawsuit, he also hopes to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
“I feel like I have to do something and stand up for people’s rights at some point,” he said.
One of his attorneys, Lateef Gray, of civil rights law firm Pointer & Buelna, said that the actions of the park rangers is an example of misconduct by law enforcement in the U.S.
“Something minor, a minor violation could turn into something major where someone could be seriously injured or lose their life,” he told McClatchy News. “I don’t think that’s what we have law enforcement for — to turn something minor into something major like this.”
Gray said he hopes that law enforcement officers in jurisdictions around the country can receive more training on how to peacefully de-escalate situations so that civilians aren’t hurt or killed during interactions with officers.
“We want them to have a better rapport with the community, the members they serve,” he said. ”We want them to do better. There’s no reason that Mr. Rhodes had to be treated the way he was treated and abused the way he was abused.”