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Council approves lawyer to represent city in arbitration: Former SMPD officer files for appeal of indefinite suspension
The San Marcos City Council approved the hiring of an attorney to represent the city after former San Marcos Police Department Sgt. Ryan Hartman filed an appeal of his indefinite suspension.
The council unanimously approved to appoint Julia Gannaway from the law firm Ross Gannaway PLLC to represent the City of San Marcos in the appeals process. Hartman, who was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 18, is seeking reinstatement to SMPD as well as back pay and benefits.
San Marcos City Attorney Michael Cosentino explained to the council that a police officer has the ability to appeal an indefinite suspension to the civil service commission or to an independent third party, hearing examiner, arbitrator under Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code.
“And that has happened in this particular case,” Cosentino said. “So, the process here is there will be a hearing date set and witnesses will be called and the arbitrator will make the ultimate decision about whether to uphold the indefinite suspension or to reinstate officer Hartman with back pay and benefits. This particular attorney was selected based on her vast experience in labor law and specifically handling exactly these kinds of cases. So, we do recommend approval of this.”
Former City Manager Bert Lumbreras made Mayor Jane Hughson and the council aware of Hartman’s suspension in a correspondence sent Jan. 18, writing, “Although we do not routinely notify council of employee terminations, we thought it best to notify you all of this one because of the amount of media attention that has surrounded this particular employee. Sergeant Hartman’s indefinite suspension came as the result of sustained misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination.”
Hartman’s employment with SMPD became publicly mired in controversy after he ran through a stop sign and collided with a car in Lockhart on June 10, 2020, killing Jennifer Miller and causing severe bodily and brain injuries to Pamela Watts, Lockhart Police Department records show.
According to Hartman’s deposition, police reports and forensic evidence, Hartman was driving 16 mph over the 30 mph speed limit on a partially gravel road with an open container of Dos XX that was ¾ empty, talking on the phone, and he failed to stop at two stop signs before colliding with Watts’ vehicle.
Hartman refused to take a blood alcohol test on scene and was detained. A search warrant was obtained on suspicion of driving while intoxicated due to the open container detected. The blood-alcohol test taken hours after the crash found no alcohol in Hartman’s system.
Lockhart Police Department’s investigation recommended a charge of criminally negligent homicide. Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber recused himself at the request of Watts because he knew Hartman, according to Watts, and appointed Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz as a special prosecutor for the case.
A grand jury reviewed the charge and returned a no-bill, leaving civil action as Watts’ only recourse where she could file for damages for her sustained injuries.
San Marcos Chief of Police Stan Standridge said Hartman’s indefinite suspension stems from alleged policy violations in 2021 and not the fatal crash that killed Miller.
“Those [policy allegations] were investigated by the Office of Professional Conduct, they were substantiated and after I afforded him all the due process afforded to civil servants, his employment was indefinitely suspended,” Standridge said during January’s Chief’s Advisory Panel meeting. “Again, unrelated to the crash.”
According to records obtained by nonprofit Caldwell/Hays Examiner and shared with the Daily Record, Hartman failed to complete documentation in several SMPD investigations, which hindered their completion.
According to a document regarding an internal investigation into Hartman’s alleged misconduct, he allegedly failed to complete a narrative in a fatal crash investigation that took place on Dec. 7, 2019 until over one year and six months after the collision.
Additionally, in the document sent from Standridge to Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp, Hartman also allegedly failed to complete a supplement related to a homicide investigation. The murder occurred on March 12, 2021 and on Aug. 16, 2021 detective Travis Davidson sent an email request to Hartman asking for him to complete supplement in order for the case to be sent to the Hays County District Attorney’s Office. The document stated that filing had been delayed because Davidson was waiting on digital evidence returns from search warrants. Hartman acknowledged the email request for supplement and apologized to the detective, the document states. Davidson, however, had to send another reminder email to complete his supplement on Sept. 28, 2021. Hartman completed his supplement on Oct. 11, 2021.
“It should be noted that this case, which involved a public safety matter of the highest importance (murder), was directly delayed by Hartman for five months and 25 days, which was the date that Detective Davidson said he was ready to file it and only needed Hartman’s supplement,” the letter read. “In its research of other homicides, the Department cannot find a similar instance of such gross misconduct.”
Hartman also allegedly didn’t complete mandatory six-month evaluations for certified, civil service police officers.
“In spite of repeated communications, including emails, a text, and even an in-person meeting with Hartman, he failed to do any of the six-month evaluations,” the document stated. “It is important to note this insubordination has not stopped either, as he still has not completed them as of January 12, 2022, even after this investigation was begun and he was notified that was a central focus of Commander [Tiffany] Williams’ complaints regarding misconduct.”
Since his indefinite suspension, Hartman has filed an appeal through an attorney at Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), requesting a third-party hearing to overturn his indefinite suspension.
With council approval, Julia Gannaway will represent the city in the upcoming arbitration appeal for a rate of $275 per hour with the total of fees for this matter not to exceed $35,000 unless otherwise approved by the city council.