(Trends Wide) — Uvalde School District Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, according to a press release from Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) Superintendent Hal Harrell. .
“Due to the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective this date,” Harrell wrote in the statement to the media.
Lt. Mike Hernandez will assume the duties of UCISD Police Chief, Harrell said.
The superintendent wrote that he intended to wait for an investigation to be completed before making personnel decisions. “Today, I still do not have details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” he wrote.
Arredondo testified behind closed doors Tuesday in Austin before a Texas House committee seeking answers about what happened on May 24 when 21 people were shot at an elementary school, but he has not spoken publicly about his decision on the day. of the shooting
The school district’s announcement comes a day after the Uvalde City Council, of which Arredondo is a new member, voted to deny his request for a leave of absence.
Harrell isn’t the only one who seems frustrated by the lack of information from investigators.
“Lies, Misstatements, and Blame Shifts”
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday criticized the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for its lack of transparency and accused its director, Colonel Steven McCraw, of intentionally downplaying the errors of his agency in the weeks after the massacre at Robb Elementary School.
“Colonel McCraw has continued, whether you want to call it lying, leaking, hoaxing, or misrepresenting information to distance his own Soldiers and Rangers from the answer. At each briefing, he omits the number of his own Agents and Rangers who were on the scene that day,” McLaughlin told residents at a city council meeting Tuesday.
“Colonel McCraw has an agenda and it is not to present a full report on what happened and give factual answers about what happened to this community,” he added.
Additionally, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat representing Uvalde County, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against DPS, arguing that the agency violated the Texas Public Information Act when his request for information about the shooting was ignored.
“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” the suit states.
The criticism and lawsuit came shortly after McCraw testified before a Texas Senate committee that the law enforcement response was an “abject failure” and violated commonly taught protocol to apprehend the attacker as quickly as possible.
The DPS director accused Arredondo, whom McCraw and others identified as the commander on the scene, of ordering police to wait in a nearby hallway for unnecessary equipment and keys to a door that wasn’t even locked.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the West Building, there were a sufficient number of armed officers in bulletproof vests to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said. “The only thing that prevented the hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the commander on scene, who decided to put the lives of the officers before the lives of the children.”
Almost a month after the tragedy
Pointing fingers adds further tension to a tragedy that has become a case study in poor policing and communication. It has been nearly a month since an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at school. He remained inside the classrooms from 11:33 a.m. to 12:50 p.m., when police finally breached the door and killed him, according to a DPS timeline.
However, authorities have repeatedly changed their key factual account of what happened inside the rooms and what police did in response during those 77 minutes.
McLaughlin said the repeated misstatements and shifting blame by Texas authorities divided the community and frustrated grieving families.
“What matters to Uvalde is that these bereaved families and this grieving community get a full investigation and an accurate account of what happened that day,” he said. “Petty infighting, clickbait headlines and politically motivated scapegoating are not helping anyone.”
Trends Wide has reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the district attorney’s office, the chairman of the Texas House investigative committee and the San Antonio office of the FBI for further comment.
State Senator’s Lawsuit Challenges DPS Secrecy
In his lawsuit filed Wednesday, Gutierrez challenged DPS decisions to withhold information from the public, including police body camera footage, 911 audio and ballistic reports.
“DPS has violated Chapter 552 of the Government of Texas by failing to provide public documents that are supposed to be public within a reasonable time,” the suit states.
In a section titled “The Cover-Up,” the lawsuit notes that DPS has used an exception to the law to keep the records private.
“These government agencies have used the ‘ongoing law enforcement exception’ to the Texas open records law to prohibit access to information that could shed light on the response to the school shooting,” the suit states.
Gutierrez asked the Travis County District Court to rule that DPS immediately provide the documents in its records request.
District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee issued a statement two weeks ago stating that the FBI and Texas Rangers were investigating the shooting and that “any release of records from that incident at this time would interfere with that ongoing investigation and preclude a thorough and complete investigation.” ”.
Still, Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, urged transparency in a statement Wednesday.
“It is important to note that the Texas Public Information Act does not require law enforcement investigators to withhold information about a crime from the public,” Shannon said. “The law enforcement exception to release is discretionary. In fact, many police officers and prosecutors throughout Texas routinely release investigative information to the public when they feel the need to do so, whether it is to help catch a wanted suspect, to seek more clues about a crime, or to show positive performance of the investigation. policeman”.
Mayor says he’s frustrated by lack of transparency
At the city council meeting, McLaughlin noted that officers from at least eight law enforcement agencies were in the hallway outside the classrooms on the day of the shooting. McLaughlin said he has no desire to seek elected office again and that he is “not covering for anyone,” and said all responding agencies must be held accountable.
He said the leaking of certain bits of information in recent weeks “continues to create chaos in our community and prevents the full truth from coming out.”
In particular, he took aim at what he said was a false report that local police were not cooperating with investigators, and expressed frustration at being left in the dark.
“I’m just as frustrated, maybe not as frustrated as the families who have lost loved ones, but I’m angry that I can’t give them answers or can’t get them,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said it was intended to receive a daily report from authorities since its inception, but none has been provided. “The contemplations are over. As we know, we will share it. We are not going to hold back any longer,” he said.
McLaughlin has criticized investigators’ lack of transparency before, saying at a June 7 city council meeting, “We had some missteps with DPS in putting out some facts or different things, but it wasn’t the Rangers who were leading. the investigation. I don’t blame anyone,” he stated.
“They told us one thing one day, and the next day the narrative changed. They told him for a week that a teacher opened the door with a stone, and at the end of the week that story disappeared too. Those are the mistakes I’m talking about,” she added.
The city council meeting also questioned Arredondo’s absence from the public eye.
Trends Wide’s Jamiel Lynch, Andy Rose, Christina Maxouris, Amanda Musa, Rosalina Nieves, Amy Simonson, Travis Caldwell and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.