DALLAS ( Associated Press) — School District Police Chief Uwalde was placed on leave Wednesday following allegations that he made a mistake in his response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers.
Uvalde Unified Independent School District superintendent Hal Harrell said he placed school police chief Pete Arredondo on administrative leave because the facts of what happened remain unclear. In his statement, Harrell did not address Arredondo’s actions as on-site commander during the attack, but said he did not know when details of a federal, state and local investigation into the law enforcement response to the killings would be released.
“From the very beginning of this horrific event, I said that the county would wait until the investigation was completed before making personnel decisions,” Harrell said. “Due to a lack of clarity and an unknown timeline for the results of the investigation, I have taken the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective from that date.”
Uvalde School District spokeswoman Anne-Marie Espinosa declined to say whether Arredondo would receive pay during the holidays.
According to Harrell, another officer will take over the chief’s duties.
Colonel Stephen McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told a State Senate hearing Tuesday that Arredondo made “terrible decisions” when the May 24 massacre unfolded and that the police response was “a terrible failure.”
McCraw testified that three minutes after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered the school, enough military law enforcement arrived on the scene to stop the perpetrator. However, policemen armed with rifles waited in the school hallway for more than an hour while the gunman carried out the massacre. According to McCraw, the door to the classroom could not have been locked from the inside, but there is no indication that the officers tried to open the door while the shooter was inside.
McCraw said parents begged police outside the school to move, and students in the classroom repeatedly pleaded with emergency operators for help while more than a dozen police officers waited in the hallway. Officers from other agencies urged Arredondo to let them move because the children were in danger.
“The only thing stopping the loyal officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the commander on the scene, who decided to put the lives of the officers ahead of the lives of the children,” McCraw said.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin dismissed McCraw’s testimony placing the blame on Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Safety repeatedly released false information about the shooting and hushed up the role of its own officers.
McLaughlin called Tuesday’s Senate hearing a “clown show” and said he hadn’t heard anything from McCraw about state troopers being involved, though McLaughlin said they outnumbered any other law enforcement agency in the school hallway at the time of the massacre.
Delays in police response due to the shooting have been the subject of ongoing investigations and public outcry. Law enforcement sometimes offered confusing and sometimes conflicting details and timelines that caused anger and frustration.
The Uvalde city council on Tuesday voted unanimously against granting Arredondo, who is a council member, permission to participate in public meetings. Relatives of the victims of the shooting pleaded with city officials to fire him instead.
“Please, please, we beg you, get this man out of our lives,” said Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of Ameri Jo Garza, a 10-year-old boy who was fatally shot in the attack.
Senator Paul Betancourt told a State Senate hearing that Arredondo should have resigned immediately.
“This man had to leave his job immediately because just by looking at his answer, he was incapable of doing so,” Betancourt said.
Arredondo and his attorney declined repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press and did not immediately respond to a request Wednesday for his leave.
Arredondo attempted to justify his actions by telling the Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have a walkie-talkie with the police and campus, but he used his cell phone to call for tactical gear, a sniper, and class keys.
It is still unclear why the police did not enter the classroom for so long, how they communicated with each other during the attack, and what their body cameras show.
Officials declined to disclose details, citing the investigation.
Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalda and spent most of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city. In 2020, he assumed the position of school district police chief and was sworn in as a city council member in a closed-door ceremony on May 31.
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