Fmr. Dallas officer accused of murder out of jail after judge rules no probable cause in case against him
DALLAS - A judge hearing evidence in the case against a former Dallas police officer accused of capital murder ruled there is no probable cause to proceed with the case.
That means Bryan Riser was allowed to be released from jail.
"I just want to say this right here. This department that I used to love, no I’ve got to say it, they have disrespected me. They’ve embarrassed me, and embarrassed my family all over a make-believe lie," Riser said after walking out of jail Wednesday.
That "make-believe lie," as Riser put it, is a Dallas police investigation that landed him in jail just over a month ago, as he was charged in two murders.
Police accused Riser of ordering the murders of two people – Albert Douglas and Lisa Saenz – in 2017. One of the men who committed the crimes later came forward and implicated Riser.
But Wednesday's examination hearing exposed mistakes and discrepancies in the police affidavit that led to Riser's arrest.
The detective who wrote the affidavit, Esteban Montenegro, was questioned by prosecutors and the defense. Montenegro was the only person to testify.
Even though he was called by the prosecution, his testimony was largely combative, as the state tried to nail down specifics about the investigation.
It isn’t common that both prosecutors and defense teams are in agreement, but that was the case in court Wednesday.
Riser's defense attorney pointed out a mistake that stated cellphone records placed Riser at or near the area where the victims were murdered.
"This is not a true statement, is it?" the defense attorney asked.
"It is an error on my part," the detective answered.
"Okay, but it's not true. You placed it there by error," the defense said.
"It was an error, yes," the detective agreed.
"But we know that there was never any analysis from cell site information that placed Bryan Riser's cellphone at or near in the timeframe of complainant Douglas and Saenz's disappearance and killing," the defense continued.
"That is correct," the detective said.
Once the mistake was realized, Montenegro testified it was not brought to the attention of the district attorney’s office.
Then just this week, he resubmitted a modified affidavit to clarify information. Instead of placing Riser near the scene of the crimes, it described the informant's account of meeting with Riser to discuss the plot.
The updated document also suggested Riser may have also lied about another homicide case.
It stated he gave police false information about tips he received in a 2017 double murder case. Those murders happened around the time investigators claimed he hired three men to kill Douglas and Saenz.
Both the prosecution and defense also raised issue with several other details of the investigation, leaving prosecutors no choice but to abandon the case.
Riser was allowed to keep his job with the Dallas Police Department while he was a person of interest in those killings.
He was fired after being arrested last month.
"We are so excited and happy because the truth is finally coming out," Riser’s wife, Eboni Riser, said after learning her husband is now a free man.
She called it a tortuous month for the family since Riser was arrested, charged with two counts of capital murder, and fired from his job as a Dallas police officer.
"The experience has been hell. It’s been a nightmare that we haven’t been able to wake up from," Eboni added. "Just seems like DPD owes us an apology at this point."
Judge Audrey Faye Moorehead found no probable cause Wednesday to continue holding Riser on a $5 million bond, meaning the case does not go to a grand jury.
"We have co-defense statements, accomplice testimony, and insufficient corroboration of those statements, that’s the reality of where we are," prosecutor Jason Fine said. "And under the law, those statements alone are not sufficient."
"People hammered on Chief Hall because Bryan Riser was still working, and she said, at that time, there wasn’t enough evidence, and I think this hearing proved her correct," defense attorney Toby Shook said.
Prosecutors also revealed the DA’s office met with Dallas PD brass at least twice expressing concerns there wasn’t probable cause, but on March 4, the department moved forward with Riser’s arrest anyway.
"To cause him to be arrested for more than month, to ruin his reputation based on the flimsiest of evidence, so that’s the major problem with this case is the decision by Chief Garcia to order this arrest," Shook added. "Why he did that, what information he was given, I think it had to be obviously faulty information he was relying on, and you’ve seen the affidavit which had all kinds of mistakes in it, and I guess that’s what they relied on."
In a statement late Wednesday, Dallas police said the investigation remains open and ongoing, and the department seemed to shift blame to a judge, saying: "…it is important to note that investigators followed the legal process and presented two probable cause affidavits to a Dallas County District judge for review, and sufficient probable cause was found."
"Well, I think what you’ve seen today is the checks and balances of due process," Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said.
He said what happened in court is evidence the system works.
"There’s a process in place for this, and this should further build confidence between the community and the police department that there are checks and balances here and you’re seeing those play out in front of you through this process," he added.
Chief Garcia fired Riser just days after his arrest.
Dallas police said that wasn’t just over the arrest, but also administrative violations.
It’s not clear whether Riser will try to get his job back.
The case is still open and subpoenas are still out, but Shook put it today, it would have to be pretty compelling evidence to arrest Riser again.
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