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

Bastrop DA disputes claim from SMPD that they were not officially notified of no-bill in Sgt. Ryan Hartman fatal crash case

San Marcos, Texas – San Marcos city officials have offered yet another explanation as to why a police department sergeant was returned to duty late last year without being investigated internally for causing a fatal car crash.

Sgt. Ryan Hartman was brought back from administrative leave on Dec. 1, nearly six months after the F-250 truck he was driving off duty ran a stop sign near State Highway 130 in Lockhart and plowed into a Honda Accord, killing its passenger, Jennifer Miller, and critically injuring its driver, her life-partner Pam Watts.

Hartman later admitted that a partially full double-size 24-ounce can of Dos Equis beer found among the debris of the wrecked truck belonged to him.

Hartman, who denied drinking alcohol the day of the crash and claimed the beer had been in the cupholder a day or two at the time of the crash, was detained at the scene.

He initially refused a blood test at the scene and officers did not perform a field sobriety test. Hours later, Lockhart police officers obtained a warrant to have Hartman’s blood drawn and it showed no alcohol in his system.

Hartman did admit to speeding and being distracted behind the wheel before he ran the stop sign that caused the crash.

Lockhart police officials in August 2020 filed the case as a criminal negligent homicide, a state jail felony. However, a Caldwell County grand jury decided not to charge Hartman on Nov. 1, court records show.

While the bungled investigations by Lockhart police likely played a role in the grand jury’s decision, Hartman still could have been disciplined by City of San Marcos or SMPD for the crash.

However, a controversial state law that sets a 180-day deadline for disciplining officers accused of misconduct — coupled with SMPD officials dragging their feet on investigating before and after the grand jury’s decision — prevented Hartman from being punished.

City officials have offered a few reasons why the investigation wasn’t launched during the 180-day window, but new information obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders contradicts statements from San Marcos officials about the timeline of Hartman’s return to duty and the deadline for an internal investigation.

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

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

San Marcos officials change story to say they were notified after deadline for internal investigation

In mid-November, less than three weeks after Hartman officially avoided charges, San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge called Watts to inform her of the grand jury’s decision and that Hartman would soon be returned to duty.

Records show San Marcos’ mayor and city council were not formally briefed on the fatal crash for another five months, in April 2021, a total of 10 months after the crash had taken place.

The email briefing to city staff, written by Standridge and forwarded by a city communications person April 2, made no mention that SMPD had failed to conduct an internal investigation of Hartman for his role in the fatal wreck.

No internal investigation by SMPD or the city took place because the 180 days to do so lapsed while the department waited for the case to go to a grand jury.

However, since court records show Hartman was no-billed by a grand jury Nov. 1, only 144 days passed since the June 10 crash. That means SMPD had more than a month to investigate and issue possible discipline before the deadline, but did not do so.

After the Defenders investigation of Hartman aired last month, SMPD officials put out yet another written statement, this time claiming they were not officially made aware of the no-bill until Dec. 7, after the window to discipline Hartman had closed.

Based on SMPD’s latest written statement, Hartman was returned to duty before the department was officially aware that he had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

The statement claimed that the department’s Office of Professional Conduct made multiple calls to the district attorney in an effort to confirm the no-bill, and that those calls initially went unanswered.

However, Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz called SMPD’s claims false during a phone interview with the Defenders on Sept. 8.

Goertz, who was assigned as the special prosecutor for the case after the Caldwell County DA cited a conflict of interest, said he called both SMPD administration and Hartman’s criminal defense attorney shortly after the grand jury returned a no-bill in the case in November.

Hartman’s attorney, Josh Erwin, confirmed receiving that call from Goertz.

The timeline provided by Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz contradicts San Marcos police officials statements on why Hartman was not investigated internally. (KSAT)

Asked by the Defenders to provide records showing the Office of Professional Conduct’s attempts to verify the case status of the criminal investigation into Hartman, city officials this week confirmed there are no responsive documents.

Additionally, the no-bill dated Nov. 1 is listed on the first page of the Bastrop DA’s public file on the case.

The file has been made available to the public, and was released to the Defenders free of charge less than two business days after this reporter requested it.

Read more on this case:

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

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

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.