After returning to duty from killing woman in crash, San Marcos officer used stun gun on compliant man with hands raised

SMPD Sgt. Ryan Hartman was issued a suspension and re-training for use-of-force incident, records show

San Marcos Sgt. Ryan Hartman detained at the scene of the June 2020 fatal crash in Lockhart. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

San Marcos, Texas – A San Marcos Police Department sergeant, who was returned to duty late last year without being arrested or disciplined for causing a fatal crash, is at the center of another controversy involving misconduct.

Sgt. Ryan Hartman, 40, used a stun gun on a man who was compliant and had his hands up, internal SMPD records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

Hartman was suspended for one week and ordered to go through re-training for de-escalation and officer tactical training following the January incident, records show.

WATCH: San Marcos officials change story again about why officer who killed woman in crash wasn’t disciplined

Hartman elected to forfeit 40 hours of accrued leave instead of serving the one-week suspension he was issued by the department, signed SMPD records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

The use of force incident happened six weeks after Hartman was returned to duty following a June 2020 fatal wreck in Lockhart. Authorities and Hartman have said the wreck was caused by him being distracted behind the wheel and running a stop sign. Officers found an open beer in the wreckage of the truck Hartman was driving but he was only issued a traffic citation. Hartman has worked for SMPD for nearly 14 years.

READ MORE: San Marcos police sergeant driving with open beer killed woman in crash. Why wasn’t he arrested or punished?

San Marcos police sergeant driving with open beer killed woman in crash. Why wasn’t he arrested or punished?

“Can you describe what Leyva said which was verbally aggressive?” “I can’t.”

A San Marcos police corporal was called to a convenience store in the 3900 block of Interstate 35 South on Jan. 12 just after 2 a.m. for a reported theft of phone charging cords, SMPD records show.

After seeing the alleged offenders driving away from the scene “very erratic,” the corporal pursued the vehicle until it pulled over about three miles away in the 300 block of Wonder World Drive, records show.

Based on the “driving behavior” of the alleged suspect, the corporal labeled the stop high risk. Hartman, who was on a nearby call, responded along with other officers, records show.

While SMPD internal affairs records indicate the driver of the vehicle, Stephon Garcia, was both verbally and physically non-compliant, the backseat-right passenger encountered by Hartman was compliant.

Albian Leyva, 23, got out of the vehicle with empty hands raised to shoulder height, records show.

As Leyva kneeled on a sidewalk, he began getting conflicting commands from Hartman and another officer, internal affairs records show.

Leyva at one point retrieved his ID from his wallet and then dropped it on the ground, later retrieving it and pulling out his cell phone from a front pocket, records show.

As Leyva began to use his phone at face level to possibly record the officers, Hartman told fellow officers, “I’m going to tase this guy,” records show.

No further commands were given to Leyva for the next 15 seconds. Hartman and two other officers then began to approach Leyva, who had his hands raised above his shoulders with his phone in one hand and his ID in the other, records show.

A “split-second” after Hartman yelled at Leyva to come to him, Hartman deployed his stun gun on him, not giving Leyva a chance to comply, records confirm.

A second officer, Jacinto “Rey” Melendrez, also used his stun gun on Leyva, records show.

Leyva was then taken into custody and later charged with interference with public duties. Hays County court records show that nearly nine months after Leyva’s arrest, the district attorney has not moved forward with filing the charge.

Internal San Marcos police records show Albian Leyva was compliant before Sgt. Ryan Hartman used a stun gun on him in January. (KSAT)

The driver, Stephon Garcia, was charged with reckless driving and two counts of possessing a controlled substance. All three cases remain in pre-file status, court records show.

Records show the use of force incident was assigned to an investigator in late April.

Among the issues that were uncovered during the investigation: no pre-planning or delegation of responsibilities by the officers involved in the arrests; Leyva was not warned that a stun gun may be used on him even though there was ample time to do so; and Leyva producing his driver’s license, his non-aggressive stance and lack of verbal resistance were signs that he was willing to cooperate.

Records confirm Hartman answered questions from internal affairs alongside his union attorney Alyssa Urban on May 18.

Urban began the taped interview by repeatedly expressing concerns that answers given by Hartman could be used in a possible criminal investigation of him.

“Are we being guaranteed that there is zero criminal investigation into this? Because if that’s the case then I’m going to request someone else,” said Urban, who pointed out the internal affairs investigator conducting the interview was also assigned to the department’s criminal investigations division.

The investigator responded that he did not expect criminal issues for Hartman to arise from the case and that if they did, another investigator would conduct that investigation.

Urban did not respond to a call from the Defenders seeking comment for this story.

Hartman confirmed that he wrote his report about the stun gun incident while reviewing body-worn camera footage of it.

SMPD leadership noted that Hartman’s report on the incident was not consistent with what had actually taken place, records show.

Hartman’s interview with the internal affairs investigator included this exchange:

“Can you describe what Leyva said which was verbally aggressive?” “I can’t.”

Hartman then went on to say, “And thinking about it now, maybe I had some auditory exclusion or under stress and was hearing the driver Stephon’s continued aggressive statements and cuss words.”

After a follow-up question from the investigator, Hartman reiterated that a “big portion of what occurred” was him attributing Garcia’s words and actions to Leyva.

“I think it’s absurd to make statements like that,” said Kevin LaChapelle, a former California officer who now works as a police accountability expert.

“The bottom line is, to be a police officer requires someone to have very strong situational awareness and someone that can act under pressure. If we have people who are not able to do that, then they probably shouldn’t be in law enforcement,” said LaChapelle.

He said that he personally had experienced tunnel vision while on the job, specifically during pursuit driving, but that an officer can overcome it by relying on his or her training.

“If we were to use that standard, then let’s just say no one would ever be held accountable for harming people,” said LaChapelle, when asked to respond to what Hartman told internal affairs.

On May 24, SMPD officials concluded that Hartman violated department rules pertaining to the use of non-lethal force and of a conductive energy device (stun gun). A third allegation was not substantiated, records show.

Officer Melendrez resigned a month after the stun gun incident, citing his desire to pursue a career in entrepreneurship. Chief Stan Standridge told the Defenders via email this month that Melendrez’s resignation was not connected to the stun gun incident.

Standridge declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

No one answered the door after the Defenders stopped by Leyva’s last known address earlier this month.

The Defenders requested the body camera footage of the incident Sept. 7 under public information law, but have so far not been provided a copy.

San Marcos city officials declined to release the footage Monday, asking the state attorney general to allow them to withhold it because it is related to a pending criminal investigation.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.