Uvalde Fires School Police Chief, Pete Arredondo, Over Shooting

UVALDE, Texas — Facing intense pressure from parents, a school board in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday forced the dismissal of police chief Pete Arredondo, who directed the area police response to a discharge mass shooting at an elementary school where the gunman was allowed to remain in a pair of classrooms for more than 75 minutes.

The unanimous vote, which Mr Arredondo, through his attorney, called “an unconstitutional public secession”, represents the first direct accountability for what has been widely seen was a deeply flawed police response, one that left stranded and injured students and teachers waiting. to the rescue when police officers delayed infiltrating two adjacent classrooms where the gunman was hiding.

In the room, one of the board members, Laura Perez, had a suggestion: “I propose that good cause for termination of Pete Arredondo’s non-probate contract, effective immediately,” she said. speak.

Arredondo, who has led the small police force since 2020, was described by the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety as the incident commander responsible for the delayed response. Mr Arredondo has said he does not consider himself in charge, and an investigative committee from the state Legislature concluded that several law enforcement agencies shared responsibility for what it called “System error” in the response.

The school police force is one of a number of law enforcement agencies whose conduct during the shooting has been questioned. The City of Uvalde is conducting investigations into the actions of the powerful police chief that day, and of the Department of Public Safety, into how its officers responded at the school.

From the moment the meeting began in the high school auditorium, the tension was palpable. Brett Cross, uncle of one of the victims, jumped on stage, caught the school board members off guard, and handed them a letter requesting their discussions, which they were about to keep later. closed door, must be open.

“Our babies are dead,” Mr. Cross said. Some in the crowd shouted, “Cowards!” and, “No justice, no peace!”

After public comment, the board retreats into a closed session to conduct its deliberations and then returns after approximately 90 minutes to conduct a final public vote. .

Some of the victims’ parents and family members wore shirts with pictures of the victims, flowers and signs that read, “Protect and serve. Who. You yourself,” a reference to the police response.

Nikki Cross, the wife of Mr Cross, who lost his 10-year-old grandchild Uziyah Garcia, called Mr Arredondo’s departure a “first victory” for her and other families. “They need to fire the rest of them next.”

The massacre at Robb Elementary School on May 24 left 19 children and two teachers dead after the gunman, carrying an AR-15-style rifle, was able to enter the school without resistance. through doors that appear to be left unlocked, contrary to district policy.

Arredondo’s continued work since the tragedy has been a source of controversy in the small South Texas community. Relatives of the victims and other Uvalde residents have gathered meetings of the City Council and the school board demanding that those responsible for the delayed police response be held accountable.

But in a statement issued Wednesday night by his attorney, George E. Hyde, Mr. Arredondo emphasized that he and his officers had saved as many lives as possible with the tools available to them.

Although he is legally entitled to participate in a public hearing to protect his reputation and remove his name, the statement said he decided not to attend the meeting because of threats. murder and fear for his safety.

Mr Arredondo’s lawyer said the former police chief was being “forced into the role of ‘falling man’,” the sacrificial lamb. “

When the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety blamed Mr Arredondo for commanding the purported incident, the statement said, it was “a smokescreen attempt to ‘blame the Mexicans’!”

“One can blame God. Why did God let this happen? ” said the statement. “Certainly, and without a doubt, the only person responsible for this tragedy is the shooter himself.”

Hal Harrell, superintendent, said the decision to terminate Arredondo’s employment contract was complicated.

The school district declined to disclose specific terms of the contract, arguing that the information was exempt from disclosure because it involved “anticipated litigation” and because “criminal investigations are ongoing.” take place” about the shooting.

“The district is actively cooperating with ongoing criminal investigations and has received objections from investigating law enforcement agencies that disclosing the requested information would impede investigations. Crime investigation is ongoing,” a district attorney wrote.

In accordance with Texas public school employment policies, the school board has the power to fire an employee of the school district, including an administrator, for failure to perform duties or for good cause. The employee also has the right to challenge the decision in court.

According to the Texas School District Sheriffs Association, Texas school police chiefs don’t have the kinds of contracts and procedural safeguards to avoid the layoffs that educators do.

The Texas House of Representatives shooting committee found that the police response was a combination of chaos and misinformation along with “incredibly poor decision-making”. Several officers attended the shooting that day, many of them standing in the hallway outside the classroom as the gunman continued to shoot sporadically.

Instead of immediately trying to find their way in by a door or window, Mr Arredondo and other responders searched for shields, spare supplies and a key to a classroom door that investigators found. later found probably not locked, according to the report.

In line with the district’s mass shooting procedures, the report said, the district chief of police is believed to be directing the response.

But the statement released by Mr Arredondo’s lawyer said the former police chief was unjustly blamed for an incident that began well before the gunman arrived at the school, noting that he had shot his grandmother for the first time. head at her house, crashing the truck into the ditch. near the school, then opened fire near the funeral home near the school. All of these incidents, the statement said, should have caused the county sheriff or the City Police Department to take command of the case.

As the shooting unfolded, the statement said, Mr Arredondo stood with his officers on the front lines, rather than retreating to an incident command post. He said he had evacuated other students to safety but continued to trespass the classroom, until his officers had the necessary breach shields and tools to conduct an operation. safely.

“Does the district want a gunfight with officers in the hallway to break out again, and in that shootout, say, 20 or 30 kids in the hallway killed?” the statement said. “And, what if some of them were killed by the fire police? Sheriff Arredondo did the right thing. “

The statement said Mr Arredondo had warned school administrators long before the shooting broke out about the need for new locks and better fences, and was now being blamed for a possible tragedy. would have been prevented if the managers had reacted more quickly to his recommendations.

Officers and other school staff were also monitored for their role in the response. Lieutenant Mariano Pargas, who was acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department that day, was placed on administrative leave as the city launched its investigation.

According to her attorney, Ricardo G. Cedillo, the school district has taken Mandy Gutierrez, the principal of Robb Elementary School, on administrative leave. In a statement, Ms. Gutierrez denied claims that lax security and faulty locks contributed to the death. She was reinstated a few days later and has since been reassigned to another administrative position with the district.

A report released by the State Commission found that school administrators were slow to fix broken locks and often failed to ensure that doors were secure.

A teacher who survived the shooting told investigators he reported a malfunctioning lock in his classroom that was never repaired.

State investigators say a quicker response could save the lives of at least some of the injured. Some of the victims died on the way to the hospital. “It makes sense that some victims might have survived if they had not had to wait,” the report said.

In his testimony before the committee, Mr Arredondo said he might have reacted more strongly if he had known that there were victims still alive in the classroom. “We would probably regroup a little bit more, to say, ‘Okay, someone’s there,’ he told investigators.

Mr. Arredondo resigned in early July from a The City Council seat he won shortly before the massacre. In a letter made public at the time, he said walking away was “in the best interest of the community” and that he decided to do so to “reduce distractions further.” He said the mayor, council and city staff “must once again keep moving forward to unite our community.”

J. David Goodman contribution report. Alain Delaquérière Contributing research.

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