Los Angeles Times

Texas state police review Uvalde response

Department of Public Safety is investigat­ing its own officers as new report finds failures by law enforcemen­t.

- By Jake Bleiberg and Paul J. Weber Bleiberg and Weber write for the Associated Press.

UVALDE, Texas — The Texas Department of Public Safety announced Monday an internal review into the actions of state police who had dozens of troopers and agents on the scene during a slow and chaotic response to the Uvalde elementary school massacre.

The review comes as a new 80-page report released over the weekend by the Texas House revealed wide failures by all levels of law enforcemen­t. The report put more than 90 state troopers at Robb Elementary School during the May 24 attack.

It is the first time the Department of Public Safety has said it would examine the actions of its own officers in the two months since the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.

The agency said in a statement that the review would “determine if any violations of policy, law, or doctrine occurred” during the response to the attack that killed 19 children and two teachers in a fourth-grade classroom. It said the review was launched last week.

Director Steve McCraw has called the law enforcemen­t response to the shooting an “abject failure.” He has put much of the blame on the school district’s police chief for not breaching the classroom sooner.

The investigat­ive committee whose findings were released Sunday was the first to criticize both state and federal law enforcemen­t, and not just local authoritie­s in the south Texas city for the bewilderin­g inaction by heavily armed officers as a gunman fired inside two adjoining fourthgrad­e classrooms.

Video from city police officers’ body cameras made public hours later further emphasized the failures — and fueled the anger and frustratio­n of relatives of the victims.

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

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

Together, the report and more than three hours of newly released body camera recordings from the May 24 attack amounted to the fullest account to date of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

“At Robb Elementary, law enforcemen­t responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report says.

The gunman fired about 142 rounds inside the building — and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots came before any officer entered, according to the report, which laid out numerous failures. Among them:

No one assumed command despite scores of officers being on the scene.

The commander of a Border Patrol tactical team waited for a ballistic shield and working master key for a door to the classrooms that may have not even been needed, before entering.

A Uvalde Police Department officer said that he heard about 911 calls that had come from inside the rooms, and that his understand­ing was the officers on one side of the building knew there were victims trapped inside. Still, no one tried to breach the classroom.

The committee didn’t “receive medical evidence” to show that police storming the classrooms sooner would have saved lives, but it concluded that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue.”

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

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said an investigat­ion would be launched to determine whether Pargas should have taken command of the scene.

He also disclosed for the first time that some officers had left the force since the shooting but did not provide an exact number, saying it was as many as three.

Hours after the report was released, Uvalde officials separately made public for the first time hours of body camera recordings from the city’s police officers who responded to the attack.

It included video of several officers reacting to word from a dispatcher, roughly 30 minutes after the shooting began, that a child in the room had called 911.

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

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

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

It was 72 minutes later, at 12:50 p.m., when officers finally breached the classrooms and kill the shooter.

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

“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They’ve got no business wearing a badge. None of them do,” Vincent Salazar, grandfathe­r of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, who was among those killed, said Sunday.

Anger flashed in Uvalde even over how the report was rolled out: Tina Quintanill­a-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting, shouted at the three-member Texas House committee as they left a news conference after the findings were released.

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

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

According to the report, 376 law enforcemen­t officers massed at the school. The overwhelmi­ng majority of those who responded were federal and state law enforcemen­t members. That included nearly 150 U.S. Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officials.

“Other than 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 ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiousl­y poor decision making.”

The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcemen­t responders who rushed to the school were better trained and equipped than the school district police — which the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state police force, previously faulted for not going into the room sooner.

Investigat­ors said it was not their job to determine whether officers should be held accountabl­e, saying that decisions rested with each law enforcemen­t agency. Before Sunday, only one of the hundreds of officers on the scene — Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief — was known to have been on leave.

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

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

The report came after weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people, including witnesses and law enforcemen­t officers who were on the scene of the shooting.

No single officer has received as much scrutiny since the shooting as Arredondo, who also resigned from his newly appointed seat on the City Council 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 visual contact with the gunman.

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

The committee criticized as “lackadaisi­cal” the approach of the hundreds of officers who surrounded the school and said that they should have recognized that Arredondo remaining in the school without reliable communicat­ion was “inconsiste­nt” with him being the scene commander.

The panel 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 who was in the cafeteria the day of the shooting, came to the committee’s news conference Sunday carrying signs saying, “We Want Accountabi­lity” and “Prosecute Pete Arredondo.”

Brown said he has not yet read the report but already knew enough to say that police “have blood on their hands.”

 ?? Eric Gay Associated Press ?? RELATIVES OF shooting victims listen Sunday as the Texas House releases a report on the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Eric Gay Associated Press RELATIVES OF shooting victims listen Sunday as the Texas House releases a report on the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

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