San Marcos Sergeant who caused fatal car accident terminated from police force

Sierra Martin, Christopher Green | Staff Reporters

SAN MARCOS – San Marcos Police Sergeant Ryan Hartman has been suspended indefinitely by SMPD Chief Stan Standridge due to “sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.”

Hartman’s termination comes over a year after he crashed his truck into a Honda Accord driven by Pam Watts on June 10, 2020, in Caldwell County. Watts’ partner Jennifer Miller was killed during the crash, and Watts sustained long-term traumatic injuries.

Hartman, who was off-duty at the time, admitted on bodycam footage to causing the death of Miller. Hartman was traveling 16-mph over the speed limit and talking on his cell phone when he ran through a stop sign and crashed into Watts and Miller.

Lockhart Police Officers detained Hartman at the scene after found 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.”

A sample of Hartman’s blood was taken at a Lockhart hospital three hours after the wreck. At that time, there was no trace of alcohol in his system.

San Marcos City Manager Bert Lumbreras sent an email to City Council yesterday afternoon announcing the indefinite suspension of Hartman.

“The purpose of this correspondence is to make you aware of the indefinite suspension of San Marcos Police Sergeant Ryan Hartman,” Lumbreras said in the email. “In the civil service environment, an indefinite suspension is equivalent to a termination. Mr. Hartman does have the right to appeal this decision to either the Civil Service Commission or request his appeal be heard by a third-party arbitrator. Chief Standridge indefinitely suspended Mr. Hartman effective this evening, January 18, 2022.”

Lumbreras said that “Sergeant Hartman’s indefinite suspension came as the result of sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.”

Lockhart police filed charges of criminally negligent homicide, a state jail felony, against Hartman but District Attorney Bryan Goertz did not prosecute the case. Goertz told KXAN that he didn’t prosecute the case because he didn’t find there was any evidence of criminal negligence.

“The facts here, in this particular case, did not support any prosecution for criminal negligent Homicide,” Goertz said.

Due to the case’s outcome, Watts has filed a civil suit against Hartman to bring justice to her life partner’s death.

Watts gave Hartman an opportunity in April 2021 to settle out of court, as long as he paid her legal expenses and “permanently and irrevocably give up his law license” so he could never be a law enforcement officer again. “That’s all he had to do. He said no. He has shown no remorse, not even so much as a sorry.”

“It’s like I’ve been denied justice at every turn,” Watts said.

“He should realize he doesn’t deserve to stand in judgment of others, based on his, you know, actions that day and there’s a literal mountain of evidence against him,” said Watts.

Watts filed a petition to the District Court of Caldwell County, Texas. The petition calls for District Judge Chris Schneider to reconvene a grand jury under a new district attorney.

The petition also cites four past cases in Texas that involve similar circumstances where a driver who fatally struck someone ending in a fatality was convicted of criminal negligent homicide.

The petition states, “Hartman’s driving behavior and actions were at least as egregious as the behavior of the convicted defendants in each of the four cases cited above, yet the attorney pro tem appointed by the district court in Caldwell County to present the case to a grand jury failed to seek an indictment of Hartman for criminally negligent homicide. One further factor that can reasonably be used in judging Hartman’s excessive speed on a gravel road, being distracted by a telephone call, and running at an accelerated speed through a stop sign is Page 4 of 8 the fact that he has been a police officer since 2008 and knows the dangers of such driving behaviors better than the average person. Hartman’s failure to perceive the risk at all means that it falls squarely within the ambit of the Thompson case. Hartman’s actions were a gross deviation from the standard of care an ordinary person would have exercised under like circumstances.”

The petition was originally submitted in Sept. 2021.

Jordan Buckley from Mano Amiga said Hartman himself admits to committing a crime and that other local law enforcement officials helped him.

“If you watch the body cam footage, the first thing he says to officers on the scene is Ryan Hartman SMPD,” said Buckley. “He recognizes himself as soon as they get there that he is a fellow officer. So I think at all levels, law enforcement and the district attorney’s office have collaborated in ensuring that Hartman went unpunished. And unarrested. For what, you know, is obvious to anyone who watches his confession and sees the evidence knows full well was negligent criminal homicide while he had an open container in his cup holder.”

Buckley also points out Hartman’s own statements about what occurred at the incident.

“He admits that he was going 16-miles over the speed limit,” Buckley said. “He admits he ran stop signs. He admits he had an open container of beer. He admits he refused to cooperate with the neighboring police department. He admits that he was at fault for killing Jennifer, when did your [ the City of San Marcos’] internal investigation take place?”

The no-bill by the Caldwell County jury, lack of criminal charges, and SMPD’s failure to carry out an internal investigation of Hartman while Lockhart PD conducted its criminal investigation allowed him to return to duty after a five-month paid administrative leave.

“Moving forward Chief Standridge has clarified that, should future circumstances arise involving employees of the San Marcos Police Department, he is committed to immediately beginning concurrent internal investigations that will run parallel with criminal investigations as was the practice in his former agency,” said the City of San Marcos.

Buckley believes Watts’ actions to hold Hartman accountable are what made the information available to the public. Once Watts had recovered enough from the injuries she sustained in the accident, she began speaking out for Miller. One of the ways Watts advocated for justice was by placing banners around San Marcos declaring “no justice for Jennifer Miller.”

“Without Pam’s incredible courage in speaking truth, truth to power, none of us would even know what took place. SMPD would have successfully swept this under the rug,” Buckley said. “And it’s evident that Chief Standridge only informed city council officials of the fatal act because of Pam’s banner, which he cited in his correspondence to counsel to inform them. Otherwise, no one would be the wiser, and Hartman would have gotten away scot-free with a five-month paid vacation.”

According to reporting by KSAT, internal SMPD records show bodycam footage of Hartman using a stun gun on a man who was compliant and had his hands up just six-weeks after returning to duty.

Records obtained by KSAT show that Hartman was suspended for one-week and ordered to go through re-training for de-escalation and officer tactical training. Instead, Hartman elected to forfeit 40-hours of accrued leave. 

At this time, it is unclear what incident led Hartman to be terminated from SMPD and if it has any connection to the fatal accident in April 2021.

Video from Mano Amiga Facebook page of SMPD Sgt Hartman speaking to Lockhart PD at the scene of the fatal car accident on June 10, 2020.

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