Uvalde police chief fired for fumbled response to worst school shooting in US history

The Uvalde school district’s embattled police chief was fired Wednesday following allegations that he made several critical mistakes during the mass shooting at Robb elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s board of trustees said it voted unanimously to dismiss police chief Pete Arredondo.

Arredondo is the first officer dismissed over the hesitant and fumbling law enforcement response to one of the worst school shootings in UShistory. Only one other officer, Uvalde police department’s Lt Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of massacre is known to have been placed on leave for their actions during the shooting.

Arredondo was not in attendance but through his attorney released a blistering and defiant 17-page letter that lashed out at state officials, defended the police response to the 24 May massacre and accused the school board of putting his safety at risk by not allowing him to carry a weapon to the meeting.

As the board convened into a closed session, some in the auditorium yelled “Coward!” and “What about our children?”

Arredondo, who has been on administrative leave since June, has come under the most scrutiny for his actions during the 24 May tragedy. State police and a damning investigative report in July have criticized the police chief of the roughly 4,000-student school district for failing to take charge of the scene, not breaching the classroom sooner and wasting time by looking for a key to a likely unlocked door.

But a letter released by his attorney, George Hyde, accused the school district of not being prepared for an attacker and described the actions taken by Arrendondo and hundreds of other officers on the scene as “reasonable”.

Heavily armed law enforcement personnel arrived at the school within minutes of the attack, but police did not breach the classroom and confront the gunman for more than an hour.

“Chief Arredondo is a leader and a courageous officer who with all of the other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time,” Hyde wrote.

Uvalde school officials have been under mounting pressure from victims’ families and members of the community, many of whom have called for Arredondo’s termination. Superintendent Hal Harrell had first moved to fire Arredondo in July but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s attorney.

Only one other police official at the scene, Uvalde police Lt Mariano Pargas, is known to have been placed on leave since the shooting. Pargas was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre.

The Texas department of public safety, which had more than 90 state troopers at the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the response by state police. School officials have said the campus on Old Carrizo Road will no longer be used.

Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for elementary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in-person after the shooting.

School officials say a virtual academy will be offered for students. The district has not said how many students will attend virtually, but a new state law passed last year in Texas after the pandemic limits the number of eligible students receiving remote instruction to “10% of all enrolled students within a given school system”.

Schools can seek a waiver to exceed the limit but Robb has not done so, according to Melissa Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

New measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include “8-foot, non-scalable perimeter fencing” at elementary, middle and high school campuses, according to the school district. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, enhanced training for district staff and are improving communication.

However, according to the district’s own progress reports, as of Tuesday no fencing had been erected at six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and cameras had only been installed at the high school. Some progress had been made on locks at three of eight campuses, and communication improvement was marked as half complete for each campus.

Uvalde CISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

source: theguardian.com