Crash survivor asks judge to get involved
From staff reports
Accompanied by friends and members of San Marcos-area activist group Mano Amiga, the survivor of a Lockhart crash that claimed the life of her partner held court in front of the Caldwell County Justice Center on Tuesday, imploring 421st District Court Judge Chris Schneider to help resuscitate a criminal case against a San Marcos police officer who was involved in the June 2020 crash.
Pam Watts, whose partner Jennifer Miller was killed when a pickup being driven by Sgt. Ryan Hartman struck her vehicle, accused Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz of “malfeasance” when presenting the evidence to the grand jury, and asked Schneider to appoint a new attorney pro-tem on the case, stating that she believed prosecutors had covered for a fellow member of law enforcement.
According to the incident report, his deposition and forensic evidence, Hartman was speeding, talking on the phone, and had failed to stop at two stop signs, the San Marcos Daily Record originally reported, and was detained by Lockhart police at the crash scene after officers discovered an open beer can in his truck. Hours later, after a search warrant was obtained, Hartman’s blood was drawn and no alcohol was detected, according to reports.
“He had a two-month investigation following a criminal negligent homicide, instead, he put in his opinion and said it didn’t rise to the level of a criminal act,” said Watts of Goertz, adding that there had been past cases in which she said evidence had been presented that wasn’t as strong as the one against Hartman but still resulted in criminal convictions.
Bastrop County Attorney Bryan Goertz was appointed as a special prosecutor for the case after Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber recused himself at the request of Watts, who had learned Weber had previously prosecuted cases out of Hays County in which Hartman had been an arresting officer.
Watts, who is still suffering from long-term injuries, has filed a civil case against Hartman that remains pending. But she said whatever results from that case isn’t the justice she wants.
Texas state law suggests that the road to bringing the case against Hartman before a Grand Jury for a second time has three access points. In one scenario, Goertz simply brings it before the Grand Jury for a second time — a path not typically taken by prosecutors in the absence of new evidence. In another, Goertz would recuse himself from the case, opening the door for another prosecutor to act as attorney pro-tem. Finally, Schneider could get involved by deciding to remove the current attorney pro-tem from the case, opening the door for a new one to be appointed.
“I will let the Caldwell County Grand Jury’s decision speak for itself and I have no further comment,” Goertz said Tuesday.
A call to Schneider’s office had not been returned before deadline Tuesday night.
In a Nov. 2 certified letter sent to the district attorney who handled the case, Watts’ attorneys said they were requesting a new trial because their client had not been given a chance to testify at the November 2020 proceedings, where the Caldwell County Grand Jury ruled not to indict Sgt. Ryan Hartman on a charge of criminal negligent homicide.
Attorneys with the McMinn Law Firm in Austin wrote in their letter to prosecutors they believed key testimony and evidence had not been presented to the grand jury. Watts wants a chance to testify before a Grand Jury, which she said she did not get to do in November 2020.
The letter from Watts’ attorneys was sent to Goertz, Weber and 421st District Court Judge Chris Schneider.