Love our December feature? Here are more stories from the officers in their own words.
When we asked Texas State Park Police Officers to share their personal stories with us earlier this year, we were surprised by the deluge of wonderful anecdotes they provided. There were too many to include in the feature we published in our December 2021 issue — read it here — so we’ve collected the rest here for your reading pleasure.
Special thanks to State Park Police Major Doug Huggins, who spent many hours persuading his fellow officers to tell their stories, despite their reluctance to brag about what they consider their quiet duty.
Heritage, History and Family
State Park Police Chief Wes Masur
I’m super proud of my Texas Parks and Wildlife and State Park Police heritage. The clock started for me when I was born in 1971, the same year the State Park Police was created.
Also in 1971, my father (Mike Masur) started his career as a park ranger at Lockhart State Park while my mother became a teacher for Lockhart ISD. My father performed maintenance and administrative duties for a couple of years until he was selected to attend a police certification academy in San Marcos as part of Southwest Texas University. He was commissioned in the second group of State Park Police Officers in 1973, starting my 48-year connection to a special group of law enforcement officers.
Along with his new law enforcement role, my father also became the park superintendent, with a residence in the park. What an opportunity for our family! Two years old, I was a happy kid. Lockhart State Park had a lot to offer, like hiking, fishing, swimming, a golf course and a rodeo arena. I took advantage of those opportunities every single day.
One of the most exciting things for me was that I got to know several of my Dad’s law enforcement friends, officers from multiple agencies. They ranged from Game Wardens, DPS Troopers, Sherriff’s Department, TABC agents, PD Officers, Texas Rangers, DEA agents and other State Park Police Officers. It was a good group to look up to; their lasting impressions on me convinced me to pursue a Criminal Justice degree at Southwest Texas State University.
Although I had decided early in life I wanted to be in law enforcement, I wasn’t enjoying the criminal justice classes in college and was considering switching to agriculture as a major. During my junior year, I had a conversation with my dad and a group of our law enforcement friends.
“Law enforcement is looking for cops, not cowboys,” they told me.
Something about that conversation had a great impact on me and I went on to earn my criminal justice degree in 1994. Within one month of graduation, I had my fist full-time job as a jailer for Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. Caldwell County also sponsored me to attend the Alamo Area Council of Government, Basic Peace Officer Training Academy in San Antonio and New Braunfels. The training was intense and a rough several months, but all in all I learned a great deal before graduating.
Immediately after graduation I was sworn in as a deputy for Caldwell County. From 1995–96, I served as a Southwest Texas State University Police Officer, Field Training Officer and Drug and Alcohol Intervention Officer.
In 1996, I began my career with TPWD at the Austin HQ and state parks like McKinney Falls, Bastrop, Lockhart, Garner and Lake Somerville.
Over my 25-year career with the department, I have served as State Park Police Officer, Headquarters Police Supervisor, Regional Law Enforcement Coordinator, State Law Enforcement Coordinator, State Park Police Program Director and now Chief of State Park Police.
My humble beginnings and my special connection to Texas State Parks have shaped me into what I am today. Turning 50 in 2021 and sharing this milestone birthday alongside the 50th anniversary of Texas State Park Police — especially while experiencing a unique law enforcement connection for 48 of those 50 years — I can’t help but think my career path was meant to be.
Along with all my partners that are currently serving the agency, or have retired and moved on, I’m exceptionally proud of the State Park Police history and the bright future.
No Solo Heroes
Officer Scott Green – Lake Livingston State Park
While I was patrolling Lake Livingston State Park one evening, dispatch put out a call about a man with a rope around his neck standing on the Goodrich Bridge over Highway 59. I arrived on scene within minutes; a state trooper and a sheriff’s sergeant arrived just before me. We found the man hanging from bridge with a tow strap still attached to his truck bumper. I drove the truck to other side of bridge, raising the victim while the other officers helped get him back up. The victim looked deceased; the ambulance was still 5-6 minutes away. I thought I felt a faint pulse, but the man was not breathing. I started chest compressions while another officer administered resuscitation breaths until EMS arrived. We felt a strong pulse by the time we turned him over to EMS and, before the ambulance left the scene, he was breathing on his own. Last I heard he survived; his neck was not broken. It was a full team effort with three different agencies and EMS. — no solo heroes that day.
Extra Training Saves Lives
Sergeant David Dotter — Big Bend Ranch State Park
I was on patrol one very windy West Texas day near the entrance of Big Bend Ranch State Park when an emergency call came out over the radio about a motorcycle crash involving two passengers on Highway 170 near Fort Leaton, outside Presidio.
Only one ambulance was available in the area due to multiple other motorcycle crashes; medical aircraft were grounded due to the windy weather conditions.
I had to answer the call. Luckily, in addition to being a police officer, I’m a paramedic.
A very strong gust of wind caused a man to lose control of his motorcycle. Both he and his wife suffered serious, life-threatening injuries. The wife was immediately transported by the one ambulance to Alpine; the driver was still at the scene of the crash and in critical condition.
I began providing life-saving services to the husband. The US Border Patrol was on the scene with a back-country rescue vehicle but had no trained medical crew. They drove the husband to Marfa to meet an ambulance for transport to the Alpine hospital. He survived.
State Park Police officers have to be well rounded. Some across the state are EMTs and even wildland firefighters. In a remote area like the Big Bend country, that well rounded training saves lives.
Ring Around the HQ
Officer Carlos Rivas — Bentsen-RGV State Park
During my time working at Falcon State Park a few years ago, a park volunteer called to report a white truck operated by a young woman who was driving dangerously and crashing into bollards.
I saw the vehicle driving past the park headquarters. The driver turned around and began circling the headquarters while I circled as well, with emergency lights activated. We circled the building multiple times.
The woman eventually stopped, and I asked her why she kept circling the headquarters. She said she was drunk and knew I was trying to stop her. She claimed she was trying to catch up to me to help me stop her.
The situation reminded me of how a dog chases its tail.
Honey, It’s Not What You Think
Officer David Weeks — Lake Livingston State Park
As a newly commissioned officer, at Martin Dies Jr. State Park my wife was concerned when I received my first 3 am park emergency callout. The report was about an intoxicated person trying to enter visitors’ RVs. The suspect was quickly located and placed into custody with no problems. She was a young woman in her nightgown, very intoxicated, lost and scared of the armadillos moving through the leaves. She was trying to find the showers to get ready for her job interview the next morning as an exotic dancer.
Since the situation was under control, I thought I would call my wife and let her know that everything was okay… or so I thought.
Never call your wife at 4 in the morning to tell her that you have an intoxicated exotic dancer handcuffed in your truck and you’ll be home late. Lesson learned. Better to let her worry!
The Early Days of State Park Police
Dennis DeWitt — Retired Law Enforcement Commander
At the same time as my initial on-campus interviews at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M Kingsville) in 1968, the State Parks Board was merging into a new agency, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Park keepers basically operated and maintained each state park, generating all salaries, operation, maintenance and utility costs from locally collected fees and charges with little or no state-contributed funding. Many park keepers were also licensed peace officers, since they were totally responsible for all aspects of their local operation.
An effort had begun in 1968 to recruit college graduates to begin the rebuilding and upgrading process in state park management. The first order of my employment in 1969 was to muster at Bastrop State Park for a month of extensive training for all new prospective park managers. Instructors, consisting of then current park (keepers) managers, auditors and specialists in various fields lectured all of us (approximately 40 prospective park managers). Two notable instructors/advisers were park keeper/manager at Mother Neff SP Chesley Autin (former DPS officer) and Alvis (Jake) Hoskins, park keeper/manager at Lake Corpus Christi SP and former Mathis police officer.
On weekends each student was assigned to work and stay at a state park mowing, picking up trash, repairing roads, cleaning restrooms, interacting with campers and collecting fees so we would have a genuine idea as to operations and maintenance when final assignment was made at the end of the month’s training. My Bastrop cabinmate was Bruce Hill who, after several years as a park manager, transferred to the law enforcement division as a state game warden. He was tragically killed in an on-duty nighttime boating accident many years later.
My duty assignment was assistant manager at Palo Duro Canyon SP but was moved on request to Lake Corpus Christi by an obliging agency. This gracious accommodation forged a lifelong bond between me, my spouse and TPWD.
In July 1969 I was called to active military training; upon completion, I became assistant manager at Martin Dies Jr. SP under park manager Joe Smith. Superintendent Smith delegated most responsibilities and authority to the assistant manager, including enforcement of rules and regulations. Kozum Mott, lead ranger, was involved in park enforcement activities although there was no official authority.
“When you wear your hat, you have on your authority,” Kozum told me. We relied upon the local game warden or local deputies for assistance with serious infractions.
At Martin Dies Jr., I confronted a youngster riding his minibike through other camper’s campsites, admonished him and directed him to return to his family’s campsite. After leaving the infraction area, I realized the youngster’s dad had followed me in his pickup truck to my state-supplied residence. He appeared to have consumed a large amount of alcohol and approached me in a threating manner with arms flailing.
My wife of less than a year was rapidly walking down the sidewalk behind me from our residence, raising a large cast iron skillet in her right hand. She shouted at the irate camper, causing him to have a startled look on his face, and he immediately ceased his rant, jumped into his vehicle and returned to his campsite. I realized I had married a “keeper” and we’ve been married 53 years now. I was 22 years old that day, and Gwen was 19.
With no authority, we “pushed the envelope” when confronting violators for speeding, campsite infractions, etc., by keeping a gasoline issue ticket book (approximately 1 inch thick, 4 inches wide and 6 inches in length” on our pickup dashboards in plain view. When we exited the vehicle, we would make a display of retrieving the gasoline issue book and carrying it much as you would a violation ticket book when we confronted the violator. It was effective. Remember, the types of violators at that time were much different than those encountered many times today.
Austin headquarters, recognizing State Parks needed their own enforcement authority, began a program for selecting and training state park enforcement personnel. The process was extremely selective as the enforcement genesis and idea was so tentative that the slightest slip up or officer infraction could result in loss of job of all involved, including the Austin supervisors.
If you were one of the selected individuals, it was made clear it was voluntary and no extra pay or compensation would be issued. We believed strongly this was something we needed to do as part of our job and accepted all caveats and requirements as our duty in public service. A small number of selected individuals were quietly sent to local law enforcement academies for initial training, which at that time required 160 hours to obtain a peace officer license. I attended Lamar University in Beaumont for a month of training, driving back and forth daily; a sidearm was borrowed and utilized for firearms training as no equipment was supplied by TPWD. At the culmination of training, we were not commissioned by TPWD, and still had no official enforcement authority.
As time progressed the training requirements were scheduled to increase. Before January 1, 1972, TPWD was forced to either commission each officer or wait then send for more training later as the training requirements were increasing in 1972. In December 1971, the decision was made to commission the select few trained officers. Bob Hauser arrived at Martin Dies Jr State Park, where several of the future State Park Police offers were summoned. Bob stood on the tailgate of a state pickup and swore us in as Park Peace Officers. I was issued blue badge 818; Chesley Autin was 800, Jake Hoskins was 801.
TPWD told each of us to not create any type of issue or situation calling attention to being a commissioned State Park Peace Officer and to use extreme discretion in all enforcement activities. The term voluntary compliance was permanently ingrained in each of us. Voluntary compliance was stressed in every training session for years.
No equipment, except for a .357-caliber side arm pistol belt and a pair of handcuffs, was supplied nor available from the State Parks Division. We were truly fortunate to work with our game wardens and local sheriff’s departments for radios and other enforcement equipment; many times, they would repurpose an old vehicle for us to use.
I promoted to Fairfield Lake SP as manager. At Fairfield I was issued a brand-new grey Chevrolet Vega station wagon with a large magnetic rotating red light, complete with ten-inch-tall egg-shaped red lens and a cigarette lighter plug-in cord, to affix on my vehicle as needed for law enforcement. When the light was activated and turning, the tiny station wagon swayed in unison with the rotation. At night, in enforcement activities, the Vega was placed far enough from violators so its size and personality would not be apparent and ensured the sheriff’s supplied radio was loud.
The size of the vehicle, coupled with my size (in winter with a puffy brown goosedown nylon coat), pistol belt and hat, I resembled a large brown bear driving a tiny car. At six foot three, my left hand had to be placed on the pavement when exiting due to the proximity of the door frame to the ground. While daytime violators laughed and easily outdistanced the mighty Vega, they found they could not outrun the radio.
As we were still in the early days of the State Park law enforcement journey, and park law enforcement was still tentative, we were required to remove all enforcement identifiers prior to arriving at the Austin Headquarters.
Shadowing the Governor
Captain Robert Enckhausen — Palo Duro Canyon State Park
In late spring of 2014, then-Governor Rick Perry and several Texas landowners gathered in Palo Duro Canyon State Park for an Old West trail ride and cowboy campout. The Texas State Park Police were deployed to provide planning, incident command, law enforcement protection and medical response.
Working with the Governor’s protective detail, we developed response plans for a wide variety of incidents. Teams provided security overwatch in the backcountry and medical response. Due to the remote nature of the trail ride, security and medical teams were deployed on foot and on UTV.
One team was deployed on foot to the deep backcountry to follow the trail ride and remain out of sight. This team was tasked with providing emergency response and medical care. Over the hours, the team remained vigilant and prepared.
On the return ride, the point rider missed the correct trail. State Park Police noticed the error and presented themselves to the trail ride, offering our assistance with a minor course correction. During this quick meeting, the Governor’s party was surprised to find a team had been following them on foot for many hours.
It's a common response from Texas State Park visitors to say they can’t believe the resources a committed team can provide in a remote location. State Park Police across Texas are patrolling parks, waterways, trails, backcountry, conducting criminal investigations and assisting local communities every day.
Governor Perry's trail ride was a safe and successful event for all, just like most visits to Texas State Parks.
Prepared for Anything
Officer Tara Bayliss — Guadalupe River State Park/Honey Creek SNA
Born and raised in Austin, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Wildlife Expo yearly from a young age. Those Expo experiences — in addition to camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology — helped fuel a lifetime goal of working for TPWD.
In 2005, I obtained my first college internship with TPWD working at LBJ State Park and Historic Site as an interpreter at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. I was able to transport older generations back to a (labor intensive but) much simpler way of life, in addition to educating younger generations about our past and helping to foster an appreciation of what we have today.
In 2008 I interned at J.D. Murphree WMA, banding mottled ducks and assisting biologists with alligator surveys. I gained an expansive appreciation of all the hard work of years of research and data collection for many native and non-native plant and animal species which thrive in wetland habitats and how to better manage them.
In 2010 I obtained a seasonal position at Possum Kingdom Fish Hatchery with the Inland Fisheries Division. Working here I assisted in caring for and rearing striped and hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass and channel catfish that were eventually deposited in various bodies of water throughout Texas for recreational fishing for anglers to enjoy.
Today, as a State Park Police Officer, I see how each one of my past working experiences helped prepare me. From executing interpretive and outreach programs to Boy and Girl Scouts (LBJ), to Feral Hog Management, Turkey Banding, and Public Hunts/Field Dressing Deer and Hogs within State Parks (JD Murphree WMA), to issuing citations for illegal means and methods or for taking undersized fish in the park (PK Fish Hatchery), TPWD has given me the skills to succeed as a Texas State Park Police Officer.
State Park Police Officers have evolved tremendously from 1971 to now. While the job as a whole is a lot of fun, we do deal with some exigent and adrenaline-inducing circumstances. Working vehicle fatalities, drownings, domestic violence calls, suicides, drug-related calls and search-and-rescues can be daunting. But when those efforts end with a positive and lifesaving outcome, that makes the job worthwhile.
Moreover, SPPOs get the opportunity to work alongside our fellow Texas Game Wardens. Not only do we collectively patrol our parks, rivers, lakes, oceans and counties together, but we also occasionally work border operations, commission meetings, youth hunts and kid fishes together, and back each other up on calls as needed.
I’ve worked at various parks across the state, including the busiest state park. Each of these parks presents extremely stressful challenges based on demographics and topography. However, all have provided me with a distinctive skill set useful for a SPPO, along with lasting lifetime relationships and favorable memories.
At the end of the workday, whether it be a good day or a bad day, I think I can speak for all Texas State Park Police Officers when I say the one thing that we all enjoy the most is our “office.” From the Panhandle to the coast, from the desert to the Hill Country and the Piney Woods, Texas State Parks are representative of the vast diversity Mother Nature has to offer. Park Police Officers will serve and protect now and for generations to come.
Those Aren’t Guns
Major Roger Dolle — Bastrop State Park
Late one warm summer night, while on patrol at Bastrop State Park, Officer Sartor notified me that a group of individuals with AR-15 rifles were milling around off Park Road 1A near the scenic overlook. I radioed the third officer on duty, Officer Evans, and we all began to proceed to the area.
Officer Evans was first on scene and advised of multiple individuals on the roadway and on the roadside equipment. The chaotic scene was quite confusing; the suspects had strange objects with them and stationary white lights on tripods. Given the low light conditions, reports of weapons and a large group of suspects, we responded with our patrol rifles and began to take control of the scene.
As we gathered all the suspects into the light and began to assess the scene, we heard an ATV coming out of the darkness toward our location on the roadway. Not knowing exactly what we had yet, we all were on high alert and adrenaline was pumping.
It was only then we noticed that the individuals who climbed off the roadside equipment were nude females. The “strange objects” held by our “suspects” turned out to be cameras and tripods.
The ATV rider was our own regional Natural Resource Specialist Creacy, who just happened to be returning from a survey of the fire ravaged forest in the park.
The look on everybody’s face was priceless as this scene unfolded. We had interrupted an unauthorized nude photo shoot in the dark of night. No weapons were found. Given the chain of events and our relief of the less-than-harmful encounter, we opted for verbal warnings. We all let out a great sigh of relief and then a half-hearted laugh. The individuals were advised to gather their equipment and get dressed; then we escorted them out of the park.
We returned to patrol and Creacy had a story for his grandchildren.
The Most Rewarding Career
New graduate Taylor Marburger — Garner State Park
When you think of a Texas State Park, what comes to mind? For me, I instantly think of families playing with their kids, beautiful views all across the state and countless people making memories to last a lifetime. Those are the things that drive me to protect our state park resources and the many great visitors that fill our parks daily. Helping families enjoy everything that Texas has to offer will make for the absolute most rewarding career.
A Walk in the Park
New graduate Jacob Estes — Lake Brownwood SP
Since I was young, I had a deep respect for the outdoors and its importance to the community. There is no better way to bond with friends and family than to spend a day enjoying all the nature in Texas. When I got to college, I learned about a career as a State Park Police Officer. Every day on the job is quite literally a walk in the park. The ability to establish relationships with my community and protect the natural resources of Texas is what motivated me to become a cadet, and it is what keeps me excited to come to work every day. I will strive to make an impact on the lives of visitors to Texas State Parks for years to come.