Daily Record photo by Nick Castillo
SMPD Chief discusses former sergeant’s termination
San Marcos Chief of Police Stan Standridge spoke publicly about former Sgt. Ryan Hartman for the first time since his indefinite suspension was upheld.
Hartman was permanently suspended from the San Marcos Police Department for misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination. At Wednesday’s Chief’s Advisory Panel meeting, Standridge addressed concerns raised by panel member Frank Arredondo regarding Hartman’s use of a taser during an arrest in January 2021 as well as the chief’s decision to give him a general discharge opposed to a dishonorable discharge in a document sent to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
“As I said we’re an advisory council, I’ve heard from numerous citizens about the police,” Arredondo said. “The problem is when there’s one bad apple, it spreads to every police officer here. It shouldn’t be done but that’s what happens. Chief, I’ve been in your corner but I think now you need to change tactics or it’s going to be hard to get the support of the community. At least two things have happened back to back.”
On Jan. 12, 2021, Albian Leyva, 24, was arrested and charged with interference with public duties, a class B misdemeanor, after a traffic stop, where he was tased by Hartman. During the stop, Leyva exited the vehicle with his hands raised approximately shoulder height. He complied with police commands and later grabbed his phone out of his pocket to possibly record officers, according to an internal SMPD memorandum. Hartman then told an officer, in a lower volume, to shine their light on Leyva and said, “I’m going to tase this guy.” An officer asked Hartman, “Want to tase him?,” and Hartman replied “Yep,” the memo states.
Hartman — after approximately 15 seconds of no further direction given to Leyva — approaches Leyva, who had both hands above his shoulder, and yells for him to “Come to me now.” A split second later, Hartman deployed a taser on Leyva, not giving him a chance to comply, the memo states. Another officer also used a taser on Leyva.
Prior to tasing Leyva, Hartman’s employment with SMPD was mired in controversy after a fatal traffic collision he caused in June 2020. Jennifer Miller was killed on June 10, 2020 in Lockhart when Hartman, who was off duty, struck Pamela Watts’ Honda Accord after running a stop sign going 16 mph over the speed limit with an open container of Dos Equis beer in his Ford F-250, according to Lockhart Police Department records. LPD recommended a charge of criminally negligent homicide after a months-long investigation into the incident. But a grand jury handed him a no-bill.
Hartman returned to SMPD in late 2020 and was indefinitely suspended in January 2022. After appealing the suspension, a hearing examiner upheld Standridge’s decision.
“Ryan Hartman’s employment is permanently severed from the San Marcos Police Department,” Standridge said during Wednesday’s meeting. “With that said, you cannot draw any correlation, legally, between the off-duty crash, which I’ll be the first person to say was egregious, it was criminal. I had no control over that. I wasn’t even here. I didn’t even know anything about any of this stuff, but regardless that’s water under the bridge. You cannot correlate the two.”
Standridge addressed the push to charge Hartman with aggravated assault for tasing Leyva. The chief of police, however, said Hartman cannot be charged with aggravated assault because a taser isn’t considered a deadly weapon.
“Please be advised that any time a taser is used there is the possibility for people to die,” panel member James Bryant Jr. said.
Standridge said he didn’t disagree with Bryant’s statement, however, said by law that doesn’t qualify a taser as a deadly weapon.
“But I agree,” Standridge said. “Even a takedown procedure could cause death, that doesn’t mean it’s lethal force because the unintended consequence doesn’t by extension make it the definition of.”
Standridge has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate Hartman’s use of taser, which he’s made all related records available. The Texas Rangers previously confirmed to the Daily Record that an investigation was not currently being conducted. But Standridge said a discussion between the Hays County District Attorney and the Texas Rangers has taken place, which would proceed any investigation into the unauthorized use of a taser.
“There has been communication between the district attorney and the Texas Rangers,” Standridge said. “What’s the status of that investigation? I can’t tell you that part. But, let’s extend this out, if the district attorney looks at all of the available evidence and determines there’s not a prosecutable offense and that’s communicated to the Rangers then it’s going to be the same standard applicable to me within SMPD. I can’t somehow magically file a different case than the Texas Rangers can and have the district attorney consider that for criminal charges. That seems to be lost in translation.”
Standridge also addressed his decision to hand down a general discharge as opposed to a dishonorable discharge on Hartman’s F-5 separation of licensee form sent to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. He said he chose to generally discharge Hartman as a part of negotiations for a voluntary resignation.
“Why? Because I would have accomplished the resignation without any right of appeal and saved the city tens of thousands of dollars,” Standridge said. “It was in our best interest to do that. That eventually fell through, obviously. Hence the indefinite suspension and eventually the litigation for the appeal.”
He said that even had he chosen to give Hartman a dishonorable discharge, Hartman could still work as a police officer in the state.
“Contrary to popular belief, a peace officer can have a dishonorable discharge and still go down the street, to use your phrase, and work because in the state of Texas you can get two dishonorables before you lose your peace officer’s license,” Standridge said.
A panel member asked if discussions between the district attorney and the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding a charge of assault were ongoing. Standridge said yes and added that it’s accurate to say this likely isn’t the last thing heard regarding Hartman.
“The F-5 is a closed matter. It’s done,” Standridge said. “That decision was made in the pursuit of a negotiated voluntary resignation that ultimately did not play out. You all know the rest of the story. It led to an indefinite suspension. It led to litigation. Our decision, my decision, to indefinitely suspend was upheld by a hearing examiner. That in turn was not appealed to district court, so that employee is permanently severed from San Marcos PD. We’re done with him. What we’re not done with is the context and the conservation regarding a criminal charge for assault.”