Texas state police launch internal review of Uvalde response
Jul 17, 2022, 2:44 PM | Updated: Jul 18, 2022, 11:52 pm
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Two months after the Uvalde school massacre, Texas state police on Monday announced an internal review into the actions of dozens of troopers who were at Robb Elementary during 73 minutes of bewildering inaction by law enforcement as a gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers.
The announcement appeared to widen the fallout of a damning 80-page report released over the weekend by the Texas House that revealed failures at all levels of law enforcement and identified 91 state troopers at the scene — more than all Uvalde officers combined. It also amounted to a public shift by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which until now has largely criticized local authorities for failing to confront the gunman sooner.
The report made public Sunday laid bare for the first time just how massive a presence state police and U.S. Border Patrol had on the scene during one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
“You got 91 troopers on the scene. You got all the equipment you could possibly want, and you’re listening to the local school cop?” said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde and who has accused DPS of seeking to minimize its role in the response.
The findings that Border Patrol agents and state troopers made up more than half of the 376 law enforcement officials who rushed to the South Texas school on May 24 spread the responsibility for a slow and bungled response far wider than previous accounts that emphasized mistakes by Uvalde officers.
The report made clear that “egregiously poor decision making” by authorities went beyond local law enforcement in Uvalde, who were eventually outnumbered more than 5-to-1 by state and federal officers at the scene. Other local police from the area around Uvalde also responded to the shooting.
The report puts a new spotlight on the roles of state and federal agencies whose leaders, unlike local authorities, haven’t had to sit through meetings where they were confronted by the furious parents of the dead children.
Of the nearly 400 officers who converged on the school, only two are currently known to be on leave pending investigation into their actions: Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde Consolidated School District police chief, and Lt. Mariano Pargas, a Uvalde Police Department officer who was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre.
State police have previously said no troopers at the scene have been suspended. On Monday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the findings in the report “are beyond disturbing” but did not single out any one agency.
Texas DPS did not put a timeline on when the review would be complete. It said the actions of every trooper, state police agent and Texas Ranger on the scene would be examined “to determine if any violations of policy, law, or doctrine occurred.”
Col. Steve McCraw, the director of Texas DPS, has previously laid much of the blame for the response at Arredondo, identifying him as the incident commander and criticizing him for treating the gunman in the classroom as a barricaded subject and not an active shooter.
The new report — the fullest accounting yet of the tragedy — also says Arredondo wasted critical time during the shooting by searching for a key to the classroom and not treating the gunman with more urgency. But it also emphasized that all law enforcement at the scene fumbled the response.
“There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making,” the report said.
Abbott said there are “critical changes needed” but in a statement did not address whether any officers or agencies should be held accountable.
In Uvalde, meetings of the city council and school board in the eight weeks since the shooting have become recurring scenes of residents shouting at elected leaders for police accountability, which continued after the report was made public.
“It’s disgusting. Disgusting,” said Michael Brown, whose 9-year-old son was in the school’s cafeteria on the day of the shooting and survived. “They’re cowards.”
“Shame on you! Shame on you!” the families of the slain children and teachers and their supporters chanted at school board members at a special meeting Monday night.
Brett Cross, an uncle of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, who was among those slain, berated board members at length as not holding themselves accountable for the massacre. He particularly challenged members for not knowing school exit doors were locked to the outside and for not firing Arredondo.
“If he’s not fired by noon tomorrow, I want your resignation and every single one of these board members because you don’t give a damn about us or our children,” Cross said, addressing Superintendent Hal Harrell.
Harrell said the report released over the weekend will help the board decide Arredondo’s future. However, he also noted that Arredondo is employed under a contract and cannot be fired at will.
Uvalde High School alumna Angela Villescaz, the founder of the group Fierce Madres, told board members that her organization has been surveying officials of schools that have suffered similar mass shootings. She offered the board her findings as advice so district officials do not try to “reinvent the wheel.”
However, she took note of the DPS troopers standing in the room, and said: “… I can’t help but wonder if they just didn’t find our children worthy of being saved.”
Historically, the DPS has endured fraught relations with the Mexican-American community in Texas dating back to the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the Texas Rangers, from which the DPS evolved and remains part of, participated in numerous bloody attacks on Mexican nationals.
According to the report, the gunman fired approximately 142 rounds inside the school — and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots came before any officer entered, according to the committee, which laid out numerous failures.
Among them: No one assumed command despite scores of officers on the scene, and no officer immediately tried to breach the classroom despite a dispatcher relaying a 911 call that there were victims in the room.
The report also criticized a Border Patrol tactical team, saying it waited for a bulletproof shield and working master key for a door to the classroom, which was most likely never locked, before entering. In all, the report put nearly 150 Border Patrol agents at the scene.
Cecilia Barreda, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Monday that a review of the agency’s response was still underway and has not reached any final conclusions.
Hours after the report was released, Uvalde officials separately made public for the first time hours of body camera footage from the city’s police officers who responded to the attack
One video from Uvalde Staff Sgt. Eduardo Canales, the head of the city’s SWAT team, showed the officer approaching the classroom when gunfire rang out at 11:37 a.m.
A minute later, Canales said: “Dude, we’ve got to get in there. We’ve got to get in there, he just keeps shooting. We’ve got to get in there.” Another officer could be heard saying “DPS is sending their people.”
It was 72 minutes later, at 12:50 p.m., when officers finally breached the classroom and kill the shooter.
Weber reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Terry Wallace in Dallas also contributed to this report.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings
This story has been corrected to show Brett Cross’ relationship with the slain child is uncle, not father.
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