Chaparral-covered hillsides dotted with oaks surround both sides of a barbed-wire fence with signs reading: “U.S. boundary.” John Gladwin, whose Australian cattle dog, Molly, runs freely through the idyllic Simi Hills on a Sunday afternoon, is careful not to cross this border into the federal territory called the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
He took Molly’s leash off to give her a biscuit. Then Ranger Clarfield’s truck lurched toward him.
If he's caught with so much as a foot in the park, which stretches 50 miles from the Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu, the 69-year-old retiree will go to jail. Even more unusual, Gladwin cannot leave a seven-county area, for any reason, without permission from his probation officer.
“Molly and I have never been cited for anything causing any kind of problem. This is all so ridiculous, spending all this money to do this,” Gladwin says of his 12-month federal probation.
“The probation department doesn't even take it seriously,” he snickers. “They deal with gangbangers, drug dealers, murderers. And here I am, for a dog leash.”
The crime for which Gladwin has twice been convicted is a dog-leash citation, violation of Title 36, Volume 1, Section 2.15, Part 2 of the National Park Services' remarkably detailed regulations: “failing to crate, cage, restrain on a leash, which shall not exceed 6 feet in length, or otherwise physically confine a pet at all times.”
How did a self-described environmental activist and lifelong nature lover become the National Park Services' most wanted?
It's not that Molly, 3, or Gladwin's elder dog, a 14-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever named WeBe Jammin', have ever menaced hikers, equestrians or wild animals inside the park, whose meandering eastern border practically engulfs the Old Agoura home Gladwin shares with his wife and two dogs. It's that he has violated the leash laws six times in five years on the land several hundred feet from his home.
Last year, Gladwin refused a plea bargain put forth by a federal prosecutor over a dog-leash violation and insisted on a trial. While awaiting that trial, Gladwin in October got yet another citation. Now park rangers are intent on ensuring that Gladwin learns his lesson, even if that means jail time. Today, even if he enters the park without a dog, he can be arrested.
“I've never had someone, while a trial was pending, go and commit the same offense. He's incorrigible,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon McCaslin tells the Weekly. “He thinks the park is his backyard.”
McCaslin handles the vast majority of misdemeanors for the seven-county area overseen by the Central Violations Bureau. The bureau collects fines for petty offenses on federal property — everywhere from Channel Islands National Park to San Bernardino National Forest and parts of the Mojave National Preserve.
Gladwin has twice opted to go to trial rather than accept a plea bargain offered by the U.S. Attorney.
“This is the guy's sixth time of getting caught,” McCaslin says. “When would you stop it?”
Gladwin, a UCLA film school alumnus who was a member of the U.S. Army's long-range reconnaissance patrol in Germany in the eary 1960s, says he is being punished far beyond his initial violations. Now he's pushing back.
“[McCaslin's] job is to make sure that nobody goes to trial,” Gladwin says of the prosecutor's misdemeanor caseload. “That's strike No. 1 against me, because I chose to go to trial.” He believes McCaslin is using his case as a learning experience for her law student interns.
“These people need push-back. They're just wasting resources,” Gladwin says. “Now it's all been about punishing me. To what end?”
Gladwin, a tall man with a shaved head and white goatee, has long had a tumultuous relationship with the Santa Monica Mountains. Years ago, he was part of a group of environmental activists who wrote letters to Bob Hope, finally convincing the late comedian and actor not to sell his 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch in the Simi Hills to developers intent on building a golf course and 750 homes.
Now Gladwin is at odds with the very entity sworn to protect Hope's golden shrub land.
Supervisory Park Ranger Bonnie Clarfield, of the U.S. Department of Interior, testified against Gladwin at his November 2013 and April 2014 trials. Colleagues have teasingly dubbed her the “dog narc” — for her strict enforcement of leash laws during her 33 years on the job.
She did not return calls or emails from the Weekly. At Gladwin's April trial, she testified: “I'm tenacious about enforcing the park regulations. I do a lot of regulations, give a lot of warnings and, as warranted, I give citations.”
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area's public affairs officer Kate Kuykendall insists that the area's dog leash regulations — primarily intended to preserve wildlife and ensure visitor and animal safety — are actually liberal. Most national parks ban dogs.
Then again, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area isn't most national parks.
The area is unique in that four agencies own a piece of it: California State Parks, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and U.S. National Park Service. Each, save the conservancy, employs its own rangers and issues citations.
“We have different rules about dogs depending on what agency land you're on,” Kuykendall says, acknowledging that the “patchwork” can frustrate the public. The National Park Service owns only 15 percent of the 155,000 acres. Roughly half of the park is privately owned, and most of that land is protected open space.
Unfortunately for Gladwin, his local Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon is federal turf, where citations are pursued by federal rangers and the U.S. Attorney.
His five-year battle began in July 2009, when rangers Clarfield and James Herbaugh cited him in Palo Comado Canyon with a leash-free WeBe Jammin', who is now too frail for mountain runs. Gladwin paid his $50 fine and moved on.
Then, between 2012 and May 2013, Gladwin received three written warnings and a formal citation. He decided to fight the fine, which had increased to $75.
The final straw came before his November court date, during October's federal government shutdown, which closed national parks to the public. Clarfield had stayed on the job that night, and spotted Gladwin and the dog. She was all set to give him a warning — until she recognized his name, by then infamous to the rangers. Clarfield issued him a citation — requiring a court appearance.
At Gladwin's April trial, Clarfield testified that she saw him inside the park gate with Molly's leash wrapped around his waist, not hooked to the dog's collar. Gladwin insists he took Molly's leash off to feed her a biscuit after they were outside the gate — and that suddenly, a vehicle's headlights switched on and Clarfield's truck lurched toward him in the dark.
Central District of California Judge Patrick J. Walsh didn't believe Gladwin and went a step further, suggesting he had perjured himself. His punishment: a $500 fine — his second — but also a 12-month probation with a suspended jail sentence.
Gladwin now must allow home visits by a federal probation officer, file monthly activity reports and — perhaps a first for a California dog-leash case — must get written authorization anytime he leaves the massive Central District covering most of Southern California. In June, Gladwin filed a notice of appeal.
This is not how he imagined he'd spend his retirement from Pepperdine University's IT department, a career he does not miss, much preferring nature and animals to computers and institutions.
Gladwin still takes nightly runs in the Simi Hills with Molly, and he's strategic about not crossing onto federal land. “I'm going to continue running,” he says as his rescue mutt gallops leash-free through a patch of privately owned Simi Hills. “It's not like I'm going to stop.”