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Uvalde schools police chief placed on leave amid fierce criticism of school shooting response

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

Uvalde schools police chief placed on leave amid fierce criticism of school shooting response” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police Chief Pete Arredondo has been placed on administrative leave amid criticism of his response to the worst school shooting in Texas history.

Uvalde CISD Superintendent Hal Harrell announced the move in a news release Wednesday, one day after Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw placed much of the blame of the delayed response to the shooting at Arredondo’s feet. Harrell’s decision also comes as multiple agencies investigate the police response, which has drawn fierce criticism because law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter.

It was the latest development in a cascade of conflicting information and changing stories about law enforcement’s response to the 18-year-old who gunned down 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

Anne Marie Espinoza, director of communications and marketing for the school district, would not confirm if the leave was paid or unpaid.

An attorney for Arredondo did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Last week, he told The Texas Tribune: “The chief has requested that no further comment be made until all the information is collected and evaluated to minimize misinformation, which serves no one. I must honor that request. Further, the DA must present the police shooting in this matter to a grand jury, so there is also a criminal investigation underway, which he must respect.”

Arredondo was among one of the first law enforcement officers on the scene of the shooting, perpetrated by a former Uvalde CISD student.

Multiple law enforcement officials and experts have criticized the response, saying officers should have engaged the shooter much quicker — even if it put police lives at risk. McCraw told lawmakers Tuesday that police could have stopped the shooter three minutes after arriving were it not for the indecisiveness of the on-scene commander, who “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”

State officials have said Arredondo was the incident commander at the scene, something the schools police chief has disputed.

In an exclusive interview with the Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo defended his actions. He said he did not consider himself in charge of the scene and that the doors separating the police from the shooter were locked and impossible to break in.

Law enforcement records reviewed by the Tribune cast doubt on that version of events, however. The records indicate that Arredondo gave orders at the scene. And there’s no video evidence that Arredondo attempted to open the classroom doors.

According to footage viewed by the Tribune, the shooter went inside a classroom without appearing to encounter a locked door.

Arredondo testified before lawmakers during a closed-door Texas House committee hearing Tuesday.

The Uvalde City Council met for a special meeting Tuesday evening and heard from despondent relatives and residents, calling for accountability from city leaders who they see as supportive of Arredondo.

Though he is a recently elected council member, Arredondo was not present at the meeting. Relatives of the victims asked that the City Council not approve Arredondo’s requested leave of absence from council meetings.

City leaders unanimously denied the leave of absence, which will result in Arredondo losing his District 3 seat if he misses three consecutive meetings.

According to Wednesday’s news release, Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second-in-command of the UCISD Police Department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.

In the announcement, Harrell noted that he has said the school district “would wait until the investigation was complete before making personnel decisions,” but proceeded to place Arredondo on leave given the uncertainty of when the investigation will be complete.

In a news release on Tuesday, Mayor Don McLaughlin said the Uvalde district attorney requested that the city not release any information regarding their investigation, yet in a statement following the City Council’s meeting he said he would begin releasing information to the public as he received it.

McLaughlin also criticized DPS for selectively releasing information about the police response to paint local police in a bad light.

A representative from DPS could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

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