The action — or more specifically, the inaction of a school district police chief and other law enforcement officers — quickly moved to the center of an investigation into the shocking school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this week.
The attack, which killed 19 children and two teachers in a fourth-grade classroom, was the nation’s deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, and for three days police offered a confusing and sometimes contradictory timeline that sparked public anger and Disappointment attracted.
As of Friday, officers acknowledged that students and teachers repeatedly pleaded with 911 operators for help, while the police chief asked more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway at Robb Elementary School. Officials said they believed the suspect was locked inside the surrounding classrooms and there was no longer an active attack.
The chief’s decision – and the officers’ apparent willingness to follow his instructions against established active-shooter protocol – raised questions about whether more lives were lost because officers did not act swiftly to stop the gunman, and Who should be held responsible?
Delay in confronting the shooter – who was inside the school for more than an hour – could lead to discipline, trial and even criminal charges against the police.
“In these cases, I think the court of public opinion is worse than any court or administrative trial of a police department,” said Joe Giacalone, a retired New York police sergeant. “It’s handled in such a horrifying way on so many levels, there’s going to be a sacrificial lamb here or there.”
Two law enforcement officers said that as the gunman opened fire on the students, law enforcement officers from other agencies urged the school police chief to let them in because the children were in danger.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
One of the officers said audio recordings from the scene showed officers from other agencies telling the school police chief that the shooter was still active and the priority was to stop him.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who praised police for saving lives at a news conference earlier in the week, said he was misled about the initial response and promised “really who knew what , when, who was in charge”. “And what did they do?
“The bottom line would be: Why didn’t they choose the strategy that would have been best to get there and eliminate the killer and save the kids?” Abbott said.
Criminal charges against law enforcement are rarely pursued in school shootings. One notable exception was the former school resource officer, who was accused of hiding during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people.
Potential administrative penalties – met by the department itself – can range from suspension or docked pay to forced resignation or retirement or outright termination.
In the context of civil liability, the legal principle known as “qualified immunity,” which protects police officers from lawsuits unless their actions clearly violate established laws, may also be at play in future lawsuits.
According to Texas Department of Public Safety chief Steven McCraw, the police chief, Pete Arredondo, decided that the group of officers should wait to confront the attacker, on the belief that the active assault was over.
The crisis ended shortly after officers used a janitor’s keys to open the classroom door, entered the room, and shot and killed Ramos.
Arredondo could not be reached for comment on Friday, and Uvalde officials were stationed outside his home, but they would not say why.
Prosecutors must decide whether Arredondo’s decision and the officers’ inaction constituted a tragic mistake or criminal negligence, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Levenson said prosecutors could charge state felony charges of criminally negligent manslaughter, though he said federal civil rights charges would be unlikely because they require intent.
She said, “I don’t know that we expect every officer to make a right decision on the spot. But given this long wait – everything we know about the way shooters act – predictably headed for tragedy.” goes.”
In the Parkland case, Scott Peterson, a former Broward County deputy, is to be tried in September on charges of child neglect resulting in major bodily harm, culpable negligence and perjury. He has said that he did his best at that time.
The “unprecedented and irresponsible” decision by Florida prosecutors to bring a criminal case against Peterson could leave other cops “stripped of their liberty” and face decades in prison “only because a finding is evidence of the fact.” It is said that things could have been handled differently,” former deputy attorney Mark Inglarsch said in an email.
Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the police department’s policies, procedures and training would be examined to see if officers on the ground in Uvalde followed them.
If they did, and criminal charges are still brought up, she said it would send a cold message to police across the country. “Even if you follow your procedures, you are still charged. So what’s the point of procedures?” he said.
But former Miami police chief George Colina wants to know what was going through the minds of officers inside the school as the chief told them to wait in the hall.
“Did anyone there challenge the decision?” They said. “Did anyone at least object?”
Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno in Uvalde, Texas; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Mike Balsamo in Washington, DC contributed to this report.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting