By Brittany Anderson
SAN MARCOS — After a woman was killed in a car crash by a former San Marcos Police Department sergeant two years ago, local advocacy group Mano Amiga is looking to reform the city’s police contract to bring a semblance of justice to her and others going forward.
Mano Amiga has closely followed the case of Ryan Hartman who, on June 10, 2020, crashed his Ford F-250 truck into the Honda Accord of Jennifer Miller and her partner Pamela Watts. Hartman was on his cell phone and going 16 miles over the speed limit in Lockhart when he ran a stop sign, crashing into Miller and Watts. Miller, 56, died at the scene while Watts was airlifted with injuries to a Kyle hospital.
At the scene, officers found an open can of Dos Equis beer with several ounces of beer in it in the cupholder of Hartman’s truck, which body camera footage showed a Lockhart officer pouring out. Body camera footage also showed that Hartman did not provide a blood specimen and was not given a field sobriety test at the scene, although a blood test obtained several hours later at a hospital revealed no trace of alcohol in his system at that time.
Lockhart police filed the case in August 2020 as a criminally negligent homicide, but a few months later in November, a Caldwell County grand jury did not charge Hartman due to ‘insufficient evidence.’ Hartman returned to work a month later with just a citation for running the stop sign.
In January 2021, six weeks after returning, he was involved in a use-of-force incident — but remained an officer until he was indefinitely suspended in January 2022 due to “sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.” Hartman appealed his suspension to a third-party arbiter in April, who will determine in July whether to reinstate him.
Along with supporting Watts in pushing for Hartman’s negligent homicide charge be brought back to a new grand jury so he can face criminal charges, Mano Amiga held a press conference on June 10, 2022 — the two year anniversary of Miller’s death — to propose five policy changes to the city’s police contract that they call the “Hartman Reforms.”
“I want Jennifer’s death to stand for something; there needs to be change,” Watts said.
Per Mano Amiga, the proposed Hartman Reforms are:
• End the 180-day rule: repeal the statute of limitations on investigating wrongdoing by officers
• End delay of interviews for misconduct: officers are currently afforded over 48 hours to prepare their answers, and are provided an opportunity to review any videotape, photograph or other materials in advance of giving an official statement
• Public transparency for personnel files: documented misconduct should be available for supervising officers and the community
• End third-party arbitration: The Civil Service Commission offers a more democratic and locally accountable alternative to the arbiter system
• End vacation forfeiture as a substitute to suspension: stop letting officers preserve seniority and promotion advantages when they are disciplined for misconduct
Mano Amiga said that the San Marcos Police Association and city officials are currently in ‘meet and confer’ negotiations regarding the contract reforms. Mano Amiga said that they are demanding the reforms be implemented into their final agreement, and if their demands are not met, are prepared to collect the number of signatures required by the city charter to place on the November ballot and repeal the agreement altogether — “seriously inconveniencing them and forcing them back to the drawing board.”