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SMPD officer involved in car crash fatality indefinitely suspended

By Brittany Anderson

SAN MARCOS — Nearly two years after a car accident that resulted in the death of a woman and left her partner critically injured, the off-duty San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) officer responsible has been ‘indefinitely suspended.’

A letter from San Marcos city manager Bert Lumbreras said Sgt. Ryan Hartman’s suspension by SMPD on Jan. 18 came as the result of “sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.” 

On June 10, 2020, Hartman was on his cell phone and going 16 miles over the speed limit in his F-250 truck in Lockhart when he ran a stop sign and crashed into the Honda Accord of Jennifer Miller and her partner Pamela Watts. Miller, 56, died at the scene while Watts was airlifted to a hospital in Kyle. 

At the scene, officers found an open can of Dos Equis beer in the cupholder of the truck with several ounces of beer in it; body camera footage showed a Lockhart officer pouring it out.

Body camera footage also showed Hartman refusing to provide a blood specimen, saying, “I already caused the death of somebody,” and was not given a field sobriety test at the scene. A blood test obtained several hours later at a hospital revealed that there was no trace of alcohol in his system at that time. 

The case has been met with intense controversy and scrutiny due to the lack of disciplinary action against Hartman. 

Fred Weber, the criminal district attorney for Caldwell County, recused himself from the case in July 2020 due to a conflict of interest. Lockhart police filed the case in August 2020 as a criminal negligent homicide, but a Caldwell County grand jury in November 2020 did not charge Hartman due to ‘insufficient evidence.’ The case was presented by Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz.

Hartman was able to return to work later that month with nothing more than a citation for running the stop sign, where he remained an officer until his January 2022 suspension. However, he will be able to appeal the suspension if he chooses. 

Watts has filed a petition calling for Caldwell County District Judge Chris Schneider to reconvene a grand jury under a new district attorney. She has found support in Mano Amiga, a San Marcos-based group that works to amplify underrepresented communities within the rural I-35 corridor, who have been vocal about bringing justice for Miller and Watts.

Sam Benavides, Mano Amiga’s communications director, said that the next step the group is looking to take is following Watts’ lead in pushing for Judge Schneider to take the Negligent Homicide charge back to a new grand jury so Hartman can face criminal charges. 

“We have a lot of questions,” Benavides said. “It’s remarkable that they would find there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with the case.” 

Benavides said that Mano Amiga will continue to support the case and are encouraging the community to contact Judge Schneider via phone (512) 398-1807 or email and ask him to reinstate a new grand jury.

About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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