Sierra Martin | Managing Editor
SAN MARCOS — Former San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) Sergeant Ryan Hartman has been officially terminated after appealing his indefinite suspension in arbitration proceedings.
Hartman was indefinitely suspended from SMPD in January of 2022 by SMPD Chief Stan Standridge for “sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.” According to open records requests obtained by Corridor News, Hartman failed to turn in incident reports under the required time limit for SMPD Officers, which led to his indefinite suspension.
The Arbitration Proceedings
After his termination, Hartman filed an appeal requesting an arbitrator to set aside his indefinite suspension and reinstate him to employment in SMPD with back pay and benefits. The arbitration took place in April of 2022, and hearing examiner Bill Detwiler determined that the department’s decision to terminate Hartman was fair and appropriate.
In arbitration proceedings, Hartman’s attorney Alyssa Urban argued that the former sergeant was terminated due to pressure from media and other sources directed at the city and police department for a fatal vehicle collision he had caused in 2020. Urban cited emails between city officials regarding news stories and protests organized by local activist group Mano Amiga as evidence.
When Hartman testified, he said there was “no excuse” for failing to submit reports on time. He repeatedly attributed his bad time management, lack of sleep, stress and trauma from the accident to failing to fulfill all of his duties as a sergeant.
The City of San Marcos’ attorney, Julia Gannaway, presented evidence during the arbitration that Hartman continuously didn’t meet deadlines for filing paperwork related to his position as a sergeant and failed to follow the rules and regulations of the police department.
Several members of SMPD testified during the arbitration, including Chief Standridge, Commander Tiffany Williams, and Administration Commander Lee Leonard.
Hartman had six categories of missing reports and evaluations when SMPD investigated his policy violations before he was terminated. The missing reports included an Intoxicated Manslaughter case, a supplemental report for a murder investigation and an officer-involved shooting investigation. Additionally, Hartman failed to return multiple six-month evaluations for SMPD officers.
After deliberation, Detwiler said he was not confident that Hartman was fit and ready to fulfill his duties in the police department.
“His tragic accident has scarred his life and placed him in the care of mental health providers while undergoing public animus. While he professes to be fit and ready to go back to work, the evidence shows otherwise,” Detwiler said in his ruling.
The Fatal Crash
On June 10, 2020, Hartman was off-duty and speeding when he ran a stop sign while talking on his cell phone and crashed his truck into a Honda Accord driven by Pamela Watts. Watt’s sustained traumatic injuries while her life partner, Jennifer Miller, died at the scene.
Lockhart Police Officers detained Hartman at the scene after finding an open 24-ounce Dos Equis beer can and beer salts in his truck. Hartman refused to take a field sobriety test saying, “I already caused the death of someone by me not paying attention.” Police took a sample of Hartman’s blood at a Lockhart hospital three hours after the wreck. At that time, there was no trace of alcohol in his system.
In August 2020, Lockhart police officials filed the case as criminally negligent homicide, but Hartman was no-billed by a Caldwell County grand jury in November 2020. The case was reportedly presented by the Bastrop County District Attorney as an accident caused by distracted driving.
Additionally, SMPD and the City of San Marcos failed to conduct an internal investigation into Hartman while the criminal investigation was taking place, allowing him to return to his job in the department after six months of paid leave.
Watts said that she is relieved Hartman will remain fired from SMPD but is still concerned he will keep his peace officer’s badge and be able to work as an officer in another community.
“I’m frustrated San Marcos officials did not investigate, nor discipline, Hartman for the open-container negligent crash he caused that killed Jen, and it’s astonishing that, instead, his failure to file paperwork in a timely manner was the cause of his dismissal,” Watts said in a statement.
The Hartman Reforms
Watts, alongside Mano Amiga, has released several reforms they would like to see on the new San Marcos Police officer employment contract. Local activists threaten to use a ballot initiative to repeal the contract if the “Hartman Reforms” are not adopted.
“I believe there still must be a legitimate investigation into the City’s role in repeatedly lying to me and covering for Hartman’s wrongdoing. It is incumbent upon the City to learn from the Hartman fiasco by implementing the Hartman Reforms in their current police-contract negotiations, five common-sense policy changes that will go a long way to building trust with the community and ensuring greater accountability,” Watts said in a statement.
New lawsuits emerge
Hartman is facing an additional lawsuit from a man named Al Levya, who was reportedly unarmed with his arms in the air when Hartman tazed him, just two months after returning to work following the fatal accident.
As a result, Hartman was suspended without pay but chose to forfeit 40 hours of accrued leave instead of serving the one-week suspension. One of the five “Hartman Reforms” is to “End Vacation Forfeiture as a Substitute to Suspension.”
“As you approached, the suspect had his hands visible and raised, yet you still use a conducted energy device against him. You used force that was unnecessary and unreasonable, and you failed to provide notice to the suspect that you were going to use such force,” Chief Standridge said in a document notifying Hartman of the unpaid suspension.
Levya received a Class B “Interference with Public Duties” misdemeanor due to the altercation with Hartman. The Hays County District Attorney dismissed the charge after Levya filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of San Marcos and Hartman.
Levya’s lawsuit claims that Hartman violated his constitutional right to be free from “random acts of police brutality.” Additionally, it states that Chief Standridge’s failure to supervise Hartman created an environment where the former sergeant believed it was acceptable to mute his body cam footage and taze Levya.
“The fact that the Hays County DA’s Office dismissed the charges immediately upon reviewing the body cam footage helps prove both of Al’s claims,” Leyva’s attorney, Rebecca Webber, said in a statement to the media.
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