As more details come out about Bryan Riser, the Dallas cop accused of ordering the deaths of two people in 2017, more questions arise too. One question Mayor Eric Johnson is itching to have answered is, “Why did Riser remain on active duty while considered a person of interest in connection with two murders?” Johnson formed an ad hoc committee Monday to get to the bottom of that question.
There has been some confusion surrounding this particular detail.
Investigators allege that Riser ordered the kidnapping and killing of two people in 2017, Albert Douglas and Liza Saenz. According to the Dallas Police Department, one of three suspects arrested for the Saenz murder implicated Riser in the crime two years later.
The day of Riser's arrest, former Dallas police Chief U. Reneé Hall released a statement congratulating the investigating officers. In that statement, she said the DPD Special Investigations Unit, in collaboration with the FBI, recommended not placing Riser on administrative leave. “Taking that action could have compromised the investigation,” she said.
The next day, Matt DeSarno, the special agent in charge at FBI field office in Dallas, refuted this version of events. “There is no instance during that investigation where the FBI made any recommendation to keep Bryan Riser on duty,” DeSarno told a press conference Friday.
With another statement, Hall cleared up the confusion, laying some of the blame on The Washington Post.
“This apparently started when The Washington Post falsely stated that I said the FBI made the recommendation,” Hall said. “In an effort to make a concise statement, I said detectives were working in collaboration with the FBI, but I should have stated the recommendation came from the lead organization, DPD, not the FBI.”
Apparently, Hall doesn’t think the details matter that much. “It’s disappointing that some want to start a blame game when the focus should be on a successful outcome,” she said. In other words: Don’t worry about how the mistake was made. Just praise us for trying to fix it.
The new Dallas police chief, Eddie Garcia, told The Dallas Morning News he was first briefed on the Riser case the day before the arrest. The DMN broke the Riser story after obtaining an internal memo about the arrest.
During a press conference the day of Riser’s arrest, Garcia said, “[Riser] has no business wearing this uniform.”
Of the fact that Riser was serving the city while under investigation for murder, the chief said “terminology is important.” Until a witness came forward connecting Riser to the murders, police didn’t have enough evidence to consider him more than just a person of interest, Garcia said at a press conference.
Later that day, the affidavits for Riser’s arrest emerged.
Police responded to 200 Santa Fe Ave. to find Liza Saenz dead with multiple gunshot wounds and floating in the Trinity River just before midnight about four years ago, according to the affidavits.
Three suspects were identified and arrested for kidnapping and killing Saenz. They were 28-year-old Kevin Kidd, 31-year-old Emmanuel Kilpatrick and 35-year-old Jermon Simmons. They all face capital murder charges. The affidavit did not name the suspects.
On Aug. 12, 2019, Trey Stock, assistant district attorney, told a DPD detective that one of the suspects wanted to come forward with information about Riser’s participation in the murder and kidnapping. The affidavit said releasing the name of this suspect could put their life in immediate danger.
The department arranged for the suspect to be taken to DPD headquarters and interviewed. DPD also requested assistance from the FBI's Public Corruption Unit. Two days later, the U.S. Marshals Service took the witness to DPD headquarters to be interviewed.
The witness knew Riser, but they lost touch with each other. In 2013, they reconnected, according to the affidavit. Eventually, Riser asked the witness if he still robbed and burgled as they used to when they were young.
Riser later presented the witness with a plan. He would provide intelligence on drug houses that the witness and his crew could later rob. This never came to fruition because Riser later presented another plan, one that involved kidnapping and killing.
They’d meet a doughnut shop near Simpson Stuart and Bonnie View, and the Miller Family Park in South Dallas to discuss the plan. They set out to kill their first victim, Albert Douglas.
Riser handed over a physical description of Douglas and the location where he could be found, driving by his address to confirm.
Riser offered $3,500 for the job. The witness accepted.
Several days later, the witness and one of his associates “stopped” Douglas, handcuffed him and put him in their car. They drove to 200 Santa Fe, shot and killed Douglas, then dumped his body in the river. His body was never recovered.
A few days later, Riser dropped off the cash at the associate’s address, police allege.
About two weeks later, Riser reached out about another job, another night of kidnapping and killing, according to the affidavits. They used the same methods to snatch Saenz and kill her. This time, Riser told the witness they were target was an “informant” and he’d pay $6,000 to have them taken out.
Although the hit was done, the three who pulled it off never saw their payday; they were arrested for capital murder.
On Oct. 9, 2019, the FBI learned that Riser’s cell phone data put him “in or about the area during the time frame” of the two disappearances and killings. The feds also placed Riser’s cell phone and squad car at the locations where the witness claimed they met to plan the killings.
Riser denies the accusations, Toby Shook, his attorney, told the Observer. “He was blindsided by this when they arrested him and began interrogating him last Thursday,” he said. After four hours of interrogation, Shook said his client denied taking part in the murders.
Shook said there are some red flags in the affidavit. “Their evidence almost entirely consists of the word of convicted felons, convicted violent felons, who have three pending capital murders on them right now,” he said. “The law’s pretty clear. You can’t convict a person on the word of an accomplice because the law finds an accomplice testimony is not credible. You have to have some other evidence that corroborates their testimony.”
As for the cell phone data, Shook said it’s a trivial find. “Where they say the cell phone sites are, Bryan Riser worked there. His police station was there. He was a patrol officer in that area. He had an apartment in that area in 2017. He visited his parents who both lived in that area in 2017. So, he was always in that area.”
The same year as the murders, Riser was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault based on a complaint from an ex-girlfriend. The department said Riser was investigated and disciplined for this incident but provided no further details.
Shook suspects his client was allowed to stay on active duty because they didn’t have enough evidence to pin him to the murders. He believes this is still the case. On Monday, Riser was sitting in jail on a $5 million bond.
The department maintains the murders had no connection to Riser’s work at the department. Despite this, they are still looking into Riser’s conduct as a police officer, including his arrests.
Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chair of the community police oversight board, told the Observer he finds the story troubling. “This individual should not be a Dallas police officer or a police officer anywhere,” Enobakhare said.
If Riser is guilty, Enobakhare has trouble believing his off-duty criminal activity didn’t affect his work as a cop.
“How do you separate the two?” he said. “How can you be an upstanding, law-abiding police officer, but at the same time you’re also putting hits out on people? How does that work?”
He said it calls into question every arrest Riser made.
Enobakhare said the community police oversight board is looking at what reforms they could bring to the table that may prevent this from happening in the future. They’ll be taking up the issue at their meeting this week.
“We’re gonna review what’s in place and then determine where there’s some gaps where we can fit in some type of reform,” he said.
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