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Del Mar lauds park ranger, suspends body camera use

DEL MAR — In response to an incident in which Del Mar’s park ranger pulled over, unknown to him at the time, an off-duty reserve deputy for using a cell phone while driving, the city commended Adam Chase for his “professional and calm” behavior and has temporarily discontinued its body camera program.

On March 10, while stopped at the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road and Camino del Mar, Chase observed a motorist talking on his cell phone. The violation and traffic stop were both recorded on Chase’s body camera, which is in an obvious location, attached to his shoulder, a city staff member said.

When Chase pulled the driver over, he identified himself as reserve deputy with the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station.

(Reserve deputies are retired officers who volunteer to work part time and retain all law enforcement authority.)

Scott Masters, the reserve deputy, tells Chase numerous times in a 10-minute conversation laden with expletives that the park ranger has no authority to make traffic stops.

“That is bull—t,” Masters said. “Do you want me to bring it up at the station and make a big deal about it? You’re impersonating a police officer on a public roadway.”

Masters admitted he was talking on his phone while driving but told Chase, “This is not a legal stop.”

Chase disagreed, saying he has the right to make a traffic stop if he feels “someone is on the phone and is being distracted.”

Chase issued Masters a warning. He then reported the incident to Del Mar City Manager Scott Huth, who in turn contacted the Sheriff’s Department, which a few months later issued a statement saying Masters was “no longer associated with the department.”

Late last month, Del Mar issued a statement commending Chase for “his service and professionalism in handling this” matter.

The same day the city issued another release stating it was temporarily suspending the use of its body camera program, which was implemented in 2012 “to enhance transparency between the Park Ranger program and the community.”

Huth wrote in an email the program was temporarily stopped “to review our procedures to ensure we are in compliance with all laws and City procedures.”

“I would expect us to continue our use soon,” he added.

Del Mar City Attorney Lesley Devaney stated in an email she has not “conducted any independent investigation or analysis of this stop” and has “no facts to suggest that the Ranger wasn’t following the law.”

She said according to the penal code the “primary duty” of the park ranger is the “protection of park and other property of the agency and the preservation of the peace therein.”

She added that the state attorney general “held in 2005 that a park ranger has authority to issue a citation for a violation of state law or local ordinance occurring outside the district, either for the purpose of performing the park ranger’s primary duty, or when the offense presents an immediate danger to person or property, or of the escape of the perpetrator of that offense.”

Del Mar employs a park ranger “to supplement public safety services in Del Mar,” according to the press release.

He is responsible for enforcing the city’s municipal code regulations and state laws at Del Mar parks and beaches, and “works cooperatively with the San Diego County Sheriff to protect and serve Del Mar residents, businesses and visitors,” the release states.