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Five Department of Public Safety officers face a formal investigation over Uvalde shooting response

By William Melhado, Zach Despart and Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

Five Department of Public Safety officers face a formal investigation over Uvalde 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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Five Texas Department of Public Safety officers who responded to the Uvalde school shooting in May will face an investigation into their actions at Robb Elementary, the agency said. Two officers were suspended with pay until the investigation is resolved, the agency said. The other three officers under investigation remained on duty.

The officers were referred to the inspector general’s office within the agency, which will determine if they violated any policies in their response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, said DPS spokesperson Travis Considine. The inspector general’s office will also determine if the five officers will face disciplinary actions.

The investigation and suspensions were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE.

In more than three months since the shooting, DPS has largely avoided scrutiny even though it had scores of officers on the scene. Agency officials have controlled which records get released and carefully shaped a narrative casting local law enforcement as incompetent.

More than 300 law enforcement officers from two dozen local, state and federal agencies responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. A Texas House committee that investigated the shooting found that after officers were initially driven back by gunfire, they waited more than an hour to reengage the gunman, a delay that could have cost lives. Law enforcement doctrine dictates that officers immediately confront active shooters.

The committee’s report identified several “systemic failures” and criticized law enforcement agencies for establishing a chaotic scene that lacked a clear leadership structure. The report said that other law enforcement officers should have offered former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo assistance with incident command.

Arredondo testified before the House committee that he believed the shooter was a “barricaded subject” instead of an “active shooter” after seeing an empty classroom next to the one where the shooter was when the gunman had already fired off more than 100 rounds in less than three minutes. Arredondo was largely blamed for the delayed confrontation and was fired last month.

“Other responders failed to be sufficiently assertive by identifying the incident commander and offering their assistance or guidance, or by assuming command in the absence of any other responder having expressly done so,” House investigators found. “In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.”

After the House committee report was released, DPS Director Steve McCraw sent an email to his agency’s employees in July that said every responding agency shared responsibility in the failure of the Uvalde shooting. He echoed the committee’s report in saying that the situation should have been treated as an “active shooter event.”

McCraw said DPS training would be updated to provide proper guidance to recognize and overcome poor leadership decisions during active-shooter emergencies.

That email came after McCraw publicly criticized Arredondo’s response to the shooting at a Texas Senate hearing. In June, McCraw said Arredondo was the rightful incident commander and could have transferred command to another agency.

McCraw also told lawmakers in June that acting against the orders of an incident commander during an emergency can be dangerous and chaotic.

In the July email, McCraw said that DPS officers should treat anyone who fires a weapon at a school as an “active shooter” until neutralized, instead of a “barricaded subject.” State officials’ narrative about the police response to the shooting has shifted several times since the May 24 massacre. Gov. Greg Abbott initially said the shooting “could have been worse” if officers hadn’t shown “amazing courage by running toward gunfire.”

The announcement of an investigation into five DPS officers coincided with the first day of classes for Uvalde students, which marks 15 weeks since the shooting. Following Arredondo’s firing, residents called for further accountability from public officials, including the firing of school district employees.

Arnulfo Reyes, a Robb Elementary teacher who was shot and injured in Room 111, the classroom that the gunman entered, said the investigation into DPS officers “will give the families a sense of accountability” that they’ve demanded.

Reyes didn’t go back to teach his fourth grade class Tuesday because he is still mentally and physically recovering from injuries to his left arm and lower back. Before the gunman was confronted, Reyes could hear officers outside of his classroom trying to negotiate with the 18-year-old. When officers stopped talking, Reyes thought the officers had “abandoned” him and his students.

He added that he hopes other agencies’ officers are also investigated.

“It’s a glimmer of hope that there will be justice served,” Reyes said.

Families of the Uvalde shooting victims demanded lawmakers call a special session to increase the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old. The gunman was 18 when he legally purchased an AR-15 used in the shooting.

Alfred Garza III, the father of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, one of the 19 students who was killed, said the investigation is “a good step in terms of accountability,” but his focus is on changing gun laws to prevent another mass shooting.

“I would actually prefer gun reform over accountability, to be honest with you, because that’s how we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “If that doesn’t change, the accountability doesn’t even matter. They can hand out whatever accountability they want — if they don’t do anything to change the gun laws and raise the age limit, this type of incident is going to happen again.”

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