Last month, Dallas police made a stunning allegation about one of their own – in 2017, they said, an officer had helped orchestrate two killings, paying hit men to kidnap and shoot the victims before dumping their bodies in a river. Cellphone data compiled by the FBI, they said, showed that Officer Bryan Riser had been near the site of both killings at the time.
Now, police say that evidence was incorrect – an admission that came as a judge on Wednesday agreed with prosecutors to drop the charges, citing insufficient evidence.
Riser, who had been in custody since his arrest last month, walked out free later that day.
“This department that I used to love, respect, they have disrespected me, they have embarrassed my family all over a make-believe lie,” Riser, 37, told a crowd of reporters gathered outside the courthouse and the jail.
On Thursday, Dallas police Chief Eddie García – who fired Riser last month after an internal probe – said he disagreed with the decision and vowed to continue the investigation.
“I’m disappointed in yesterday’s ruling, there’s no question in my mind about that,” García said at a news conference. “We’re going to continue to thoroughly investigate this case, support the work that our detectives did.”
Riser has maintained his innocence. Toby Shook, his attorney, did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post early on Friday.
Riser, a 13-year-veteran, was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder on March 4 for allegedly ordering the killings of Liza Saenz,31, and Albert Douglas, 61. He was fired on March 9 after an Internal Affairs investigation.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, D, also formed a committee to investigate why Riser was allowed to remain on the force while detectives investigated him in both killings, WFAA reported.
The case against Riser grew out of charges against three other men – Kevin Kidd, Emmanuel Kilpatrick and Jermon Simmons – in the killings of Saenz, whose body was found in the Trinity River in March 2017, and Douglas, whose body was never recovered.
In August 2019, one of the three men incriminated Riser, according to a police affidavit. The man, who police declined to identify to protect his identity, said Riser, whom he knew from his youth, had offered him nearly $10,000 to carry out both kidnappings and killings.
Last month, police said they had obtained Riser’s cellphone data from the FBI, which confirmed the officer was nearby both the killings. But on Tuesday, the Dallas police published an “updated” copy of the affidavit. Instead of placing him near the murders, the cellphone data only showed Riser near an area where the witness said he and Riser had “met to plan the kidnapping and murders.”
At a Wednesday court hearing on the case, Detective Esteban Montenegro admitted he had made a mistake when typing the first version of the document. The line claiming that cellphone data put Riser near the scene of the crimes was “an error on my part,” he said.
Despite his mistake, Montenegro argued there was still enough evidence to present the case to a grand jury. But prosecutors pushed back.
“Where we stand as a district attorney’s office right now today, we do not feel there’s sufficient probable cause for this case,” Dallas County prosecutor Jason Fine told Criminal Court Judge Audrey Moorehead.
Fine also revealed that prosecutors were first brought the case in December 2019, and said at the time there wasn’t enough evidence. Prosecutors said the same thing last month, Fine said – but police arrested Riser anyway.
Shook said that the man incriminating Riser has “all the reason in the world to lie and to try to gain advantage by trying to implicate a police officer.”
Moorehead sided with prosecutors and dropped both charges. Later that afternoon, Riser walked out of the courthouse with a plastic bag containing his personal belongings, WFAA reported.
“I was 100 percent innocent from the get-go,” he told reporters.
Later that day, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office said the judge’s decision did not mean the case was closed, KTVT reported.