Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
As a public service, public health stories are free to Central Texans during the coronavirus crisis. Please support our local journalists by subscribing today. Call 512-392-2458.

Reporting shines light on fatal wreck, SMPD's response

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Illuminating reporting by Stephanie Gates in the Daily Record this week powerfully shined a disturbing light on San Marcos Police Department leadership –– the sergeant who retained his job after a fatal wreck in June, whereby Lockhart police recommended charges of Criminal Negligent Homicide after finding an unfinished Dos XX in his cupholder, but also our new police chief, who only a few weeks ago bothered to inform City Council about this dire and shameful event.

Upon filing multiple open-records requests for correspondence among relevant city officials related to Sgt. Ryan Hartman's crash that killed Kyle resident Jennifer Miller, only a single document was provided to me: an April 2 letter from SMPD Chief Stan Standridge to Mayor Jane Hughson and city council.

Glaringly, it appears Chief Standridge first informed our municipal leadership of Hartman's fatal open-container crash more than four months AFTER he opted to return the disgraced sergeant back to work.

Indeed, it does not seem to be any moral imperative felt by Chief Standridge that prompted him to alert city council, but rather that Pamela Watts –– Ms. Miller's loving partner, who herself endured serious injuries when Hartman's truck ran a stop sign, 16 mph over the speed limit, and smashed into the couple's car –– dared to speak out about the tragedy.

Chief Standridge's letter to council featured an image of a banner created by Ms. Watts, which just a few days prior she had begun sporadically installing across the city with the hope of drawing attention to her crusade to remove Hartman from our police force.

It was the survivor's courage –– not Chief Standridge's integrity –– that allowed SMPD's despicable 10-month-long secret to, at long last, come to the surface.

However, Ms. Gates' excellent reporting makes clear that Chief Standridge's April 2 letter to council notably left out a number of germane facts, and frankly, some elements are downright misleading:

* Chief mentions "the existence of an open container in Ryan's vehicle" –– he failed to clarify the container still had beer in it and was, in fact, located in Hartman's cup holder!

* Chief mentions "Ryan was in violation of traffic law" –– he failed to mention that Lockhart PD, based on their investigation, recommended charges of Criminal Negligent Homicide.

* Chief mentions Lockhart PD "did not perceive Ryan as intoxicated at the scene" –– it's not clear why he purports a consensus view on that, and he failed to mention that Lockhart PD officer Daniel Williams stated in the police report: “I did have concerns that if Ryan wanted to be cooperative as he said he wanted to be, this was an odd response to my request, if in fact Ryan had not consumed any alcoholic beverages prior to the crash.”

* Chief mentions "there was an open container, but it was not cold to the touch" –– he failed to mention that anything outside midday in June for an extended period is not likely to be "cold to the touch."

* Chief mentions Hartman's blood specimen "did not show intoxication" –– he failed to mention that Hartman's refusal to prove his sobriety (a task Hartman himself, hypocritically, demands of DWI suspects in his capacity at SMPD) "would give his body the opportunity to metabolize whatever blood evidence there was" and"occurred hours later" so "crucial evidence was lost to prove he had been consuming alcohol prior to the collision" in the words of Ms. Watts' lawyer.

When Chief Standridge was hired, we were promised a reformer who would restore the severe loss of confidence by the public in SMPD in recent years.

Unfortunately, the department's utter untrustworthiness remains on full display, underscoring the important need for community participation and open governance in the San Marcos Criminal Justice Reform committee.

This Op-Ed was submitted by Jordan Buckley

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666