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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Police chief of Uvalde School on leave after mass shooting

DALLAS ( Associated Press) – The police chief of the Uvalde school district was sent on leave Wednesday after allegations he made a mistake in his response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers .

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said he put the schools’ police chief Pete Arredondo on administrative leave because the facts of what happened are unclear. In a statement, Harrell did not address Arredondo’s actions as on-site commander during the attack, but said he did not know when the details of federal, state and local investigations into the law enforcement response to the killings would emerge. .

“From the beginning of this horrific incident, I shared that the district would wait until the investigation was completed before personnel made a decision,” Harrell said. “Due to the lack of clarity and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigation, I have decided to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave, effective at this date.”

Anne Marie Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the Uvalde school district, declined to say whether Arredondo would continue to be paid while on leave.

Another officer will assume the duties of the embattled chief, Harrell said.

Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told a state Senate hearing on Tuesday that Arredondo made “terrible decisions” as far back as the May 24 massacre, and that the police response was a “gross failure.”

Three minutes after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered the school, law enforcement armed enough to stop the gunman was on the scene, McCraw testified. Yet police officers armed with rifles waited in the school hallway for more than an hour while the gunman carried out the massacre. McCraw said the classroom door could not be locked from the inside, but there was no indication that officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside.

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McCraw said parents begged police outside the school to let them in, and students inside the classroom repeatedly called for help from 911 operators while more than a dozen officers waited in a hallway. Were. Officials from other agencies urged Arredondo to let them in because the children were in danger.

“The only thing preventing the dedicated officers’ hallways from entering Rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to put the officers’ lives before the lives of the children,” McCraw said.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin accused Arredondo of blaming McCraw’s testimony, saying the Department of Public Safety has repeatedly misinformed about the shooting and highlighted the role of its own officers.

McLaughlin called Tuesday’s Senate for a “clown show” hearing and said he had heard nothing from McCraw about the involvement of state troopers, even though McLaughlin said their numbers during the slaughter in the school hallway were none. Even more than any other law enforcement agency.

The delay in the police response because the shooting was taking place has become the focus of an ongoing investigation and public outcry. Law enforcement has sometimes offered confusing and sometimes contradictory details and timelines that have attracted anger and frustration.

Uvalde City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday against giving Arredondo – who is a council member – a leave of absence from attending public meetings. Relatives of the shooting victims had urged city leaders to shoot them.

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“Please, please, we’re begging you, get this man out of our lives,” said Berlinda Arreola, the grandmother of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, who was fatally shot in the attack.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt told the state Senate hearing that Arredondo should have stepped down straight away.

“This man should have been fired immediately because, judging by his reaction, he was incompetent for it,” Betancourt said.

Arredondo and his attorney have declined repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press and did not immediately respond to Wednesday’s inquiries about his leave.

Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he does not consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that someone else has taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have police and campus radios, but used his cellphone for tactical gear, snipers and classroom keys.

It is still unclear why it took the police so long to enter the classroom, how they communicated with each other during the attack and what their body cameras showed.

Officials have declined to release further details, citing the investigation.

Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalde and spent most of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city. He took the job of police chief in the school district in 2020 and was sworn in as a member of the city council in a closed-door ceremony on May 31.

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Get more Associated Press coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

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