The action — or more specifically, the inaction of a school district police chief and other law enforcement officers — has become the focus of an investigation into the shocking school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this week.
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.
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?
“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. But it was not clear why the school chief ignored his warnings.
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. New York City defense attorney Paul Martin and Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said Saturday that they are not aware of any other officers who have been criminally charged for failing to commit a mass shooting. Is.
Martin, who has represented police officers charged with murder, assault and other crimes, said he thinks what happened in Uvalde is different from Parkland because officers waiting to confront the attacker are following orders. Were. Martin said he does not think he can be charged based on the decisions of his order.
As far as the school district police chief deciding to wait, Martin said criminal charges against him would be a “very high bar” because police officers are given latitude to make tactical decisions.
“Families can sue the police department for failing to act. …they can clearly be found civilly liable,” he said. “I think it’s very doubtful that he could be charged with criminal charges.”
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. Potential administrative penalties – met by the department itself – can range from suspension or docked pay to forced resignation or retirement, or outright termination.
The families of most of those killed or injured in Parkland settled a $127.5 million settlement with the US Justice Department over the FBI’s failure to stop the gunman, even though it had received information it intended to attack. Scott Peterson, a former Broward County deputy, is scheduled to go to trial 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.
A federal judge dismissed all but one of the lawsuits against the school district and the sheriff’s office after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, ruling that the gunmen were responsible. The daughter of a teacher who died in her trial against the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 settled a $1.5 million settlement. At that time the police were heavily criticized for not attending school early.
“What Columbine taught us is that when you have an active shooter situation, waiting for additional resources will cost lives,” Wexler said. “Here we are, 20 years after Columbine and this is the same issue that continues to challenge law enforcement.”
He said that each department should clearly state in its policies that a gunman should be confronted immediately in these situations.
According to Steven McCraw, chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Uvalde School District 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.
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 more about 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; Mike Balsamo in Washington, DC; and Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
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