Thursday, March 23, 2023

Damning Report, Bodycam Video Shows Chaos of Police Response to Uvalde Shooting

UVALDE, Texas ( Associated Press) — A damning report and hours of body camera footage further exposed the chaotic response to a mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school, where hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered but they then waited to confront the shooter even after a child trapped with the shooter called 911.

The findings of an investigative committee released Sunday were the first to criticize both state and federal law enforcement, and not just local authorities in the South Texas city, for the disconcerting inaction of heavily armed officers. when a gunman opened fire inside two adjoining fourth grade classrooms at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

CLOCK: Texas Police Chief Says Uvalde Officers Might Have Finished Shooting Ahead of Time

Body camera footage of city police officers released hours later only further emphasized the failings and fueled the anger and frustration of the victims’ relatives.

“It’s disgusting. Disgusting,” said Michael Brown, whose 9-year-old son was in the school cafeteria the day of the shooting and survived. “They’re cowards.”

Nearly 400 law enforcement officers rushed to the school, but “extremely poor decision-making” resulted in more than an hour of chaos before the shooter was finally confronted and killed, according to the report written by a House investigative committee. of Texas Representatives.

Together, the report and more than three hours of newly released body camera footage of the May 24 tragedy represented the most comprehensive account to date of one of the worst school shootings in US history.

“At Robb Elementary, law enforcement officials did not adhere to their active shooter training and did not prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report says.

The gunman fired approximately 142 rounds inside the building, and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots occurred before any officers entered, according to the report, which exposed numerous flaws. Among them:

— No one assumed command even though dozens of officers were on the scene.

— The commander of a Border Patrol tactical team waited for a ballistic shield and a working skeleton key for a classroom door that might not even be needed before entering.

— An officer with the Uvalde Police Department said he heard 911 calls coming from inside rooms, and he understood officers on one side of the building knew there were victims trapped inside. Still, no one tried to enter the classroom.

The committee did not “receive medical evidence” to show that police raiding classrooms earlier would have saved lives, but concluded that “it is plausible that some victims might have survived had they not had to wait an additional 73 minutes for rescue. ”

CLOCK: Uvalde Schools Police Chief Retires from City Council

The findings had at least one immediate effect: Lt. Mariano Pargas, an officer with the Uvalde Police Department who was the city’s interim police chief during the massacre, was placed on administrative leave.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said an investigation would be launched to determine if Pargas should have taken command of the scene. He also revealed for the first time that some officers had left the force since the shooting, but did not provide an exact number, saying there were as many as three.

Hours after the report was released, Uvalde officials for the first time separately released hours of body camera footage of city police officers responding to the attack. It included video of multiple officers reacting to a dispatcher’s word, about 30 minutes after the shooting began, that a child in the room had called 911.

“The room is full of victims. Child calls 911,” an officer said.

Another body camera video from Uvalde Staff Sgt. Eduardo Canales, head of the city’s SWAT team, showed the officer approaching classrooms when shots rang out at 11:37 a.m.

A minute later, Canales said: “Dude, we have to get in there. We have to get in there, he keeps shooting. We have to get in there. Another officer could be heard saying “DPS is sending their people.”

It was 72 minutes later, at 12:50 pm, that officers finally stormed the classrooms and killed the shooter.

Calls for police accountability have grown in Uvalde since the shooting.

“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They don’t have to wear a badge. None of them do,” Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, who was among those killed, said Sunday.

Anger flashed through Uvalde even over how the report was presented: Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting, yelled at the three-member committee of the Texas House of Representatives as they left a news conference after the reports were released. the findings.

Committee members invited the victims’ families to discuss the report privately, but Quintanilla-Taylor said the committee should have answered questions from the community, not just the media.

“I’m pissed off. They need to come back and give us their full attention,” he said later. “These leaders are not leaders,” he said.

According to the report, 376 law enforcement officers concentrated on the school. The vast majority of those who responded were federal and state law enforcement. That included nearly 150 US Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officers.

“Apart from the attacker, the Committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation,” the report says. “There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or bad motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and extremely poor decision-making.”

The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcement officers who attended the school were better trained and equipped than the school district’s police, which the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state police force, previously criticized. for not entering the room earlier.

Investigators said it was not their job to determine whether officers should be held accountable, saying decisions rested with each law enforcement agency. Prior to Sunday, only one of hundreds of officers on the scene, Pete Arredondo, the police chief for the Uvalde School District, was known to be on leave.

“Everyone who came to the scene was talking about this being chaotic,” said Texas state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican who led the investigation.

READ MORE: Texas Department of Public Safety chief says Uvalde police response was ‘abject failure’

Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the US Border Patrol did not immediately return requests for comment on Sunday.

The report followed weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people, including witnesses and police officers who were at the scene of the shooting.

No officer has received as much scrutiny since the shooting as Arredondo, who also resigned from his newly appointed City Council seat after the shooting. Arredondo told the committee that he treated the shooter as a “barricaded subject,” according to the report, and defended never treating the scene as an active shooter situation because he did not have eye contact with the gunman.

Arredondo also tried to find a key to the classrooms, but no one checked to see if the doors were locked, according to the report.

The report criticized the approach of the hundreds of officers who surrounded the school as “indifferent” and said they should have recognized that Arredondo remaining at the school without reliable communication was “inconsistent” with him being the scene commander. The report concluded that some officers waited because they relied on bad information, while others “had enough information to know better.”

The report was the result of one of several investigations into the shooting, including one led by the Justice Department.

Brown, the father of the 9-year-old boy who was in the cafeteria the day of the shooting, arrived at the committee’s news conference Sunday with signs reading “We Want Accountability” and “Prosecute Pete Arredondo.”

Brown said he hasn’t read the report yet, but already knew enough to say police “have blood on their hands.”

Weber reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas.

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