By Alejandro Serrano, The Texas Tribune
“Uvalde officials say local prosecutor impeded investigation into police response to shooting” 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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The city of Uvalde is suing the local district attorney, accusing her of withholding information an independent investigator needs to conduct an internal affairs investigation of the police response to the Robb Elementary School shooting.
City officials hired Jesse Prado of JPPI Investigations LLC to conduct the internal affairs inquiry. The suit filed Thursday names Christina Mitchell, Uvalde County district attorney for the 38th Judicial District, as the lone defendant. It seeks a judge to compel Mitchell to hand over all relevant law enforcement investigative records and materials from all law enforcement agencies.
Mitchell did not immediately respond Thursday to an email seeking comment.
“The internal affairs investigation by Prado is ongoing, but it is significantly restricted by the scope of evidence available to Prado by defendant,” the suit alleged.
In a statement about the suit, city officials said the Uvalde community had “waited entirely too long for answers and transparency” about the May 24 shooting and the widely criticized law enforcement response.
“Despite the City of Uvalde’s efforts to amicably obtain the necessary investigative materials for its ongoing Uvalde Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigation, the District Attorney has blocked the City’s ability to obtain critical information to assess its officers’ actions and compliance with police department policies and expectations,” they said in a statement. “From day one, the city’s focus is on helping the entire Uvalde community, parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and young survivors navigate through the healing process.”
More than 300 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, 25 of whom were from the Uvalde municipal police department, according to the suit. Law enforcement officers from several agencies waited more than an hour to breach a classroom and confront the gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers.
Some of the children in the classrooms called 911 for help, which dispatchers relayed, although it is not clear who at the scene heard those communications.
Prado, the investigator hired by city officials, needs the additional investigative materials to “provide an accurate and complete internal affairs investigation and report,” according to the suit.
His investigation is expected to evaluate city officers’ response and assess whether any of them violated policy, city officials said.
The investigation would allow the city to determine whether any disciplinary action is needed, according to the lawsuit.
“Without complete investigatory information, the city will be detrimentally affected in fulfilling the statutory requirements related to its own officers’ conduct and fulfilling its own policies,” the suit states.
A criminal investigation of the shooting remains ongoing. In previous statements, Mitchell has said she won’t be able to make a decision about any potential charges filed against anyone — including law enforcement — until she receives a completed investigation from Texas Rangers.
The Rangers’ investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Steve McCraw, director of the Department of Public Safety, said in October. Part of the investigation will review whether a faster response could have saved any of the victims who died.
The suit acknowledges the open investigation but says it “should not prohibit defendant from providing the relevant information to the city’s investigator while maintaining confidentiality of investigation materials.”
Further, it alleges that Mitchell had indicated the investigation would be completed by the end of November. To date there have been no charges in connection to the shooting, according to the suit. Law enforcement killed the gunman after eventually breaching the classroom he was in.
Several law enforcement officers from local police to DPS have already resigned or been fired, mostly in light of new information that has become public through news reports.
Last month, Lt. Mariano Pargas of Uvalde police, who was the acting police chief on the day of the shooting, resigned days before the City Council was set to discuss his termination. He had been placed on leave in July; he stepped down following a CNN report that showed he was told that “eight to nine” children were alive in the classrooms but he failed to coordinate action.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/01/uvalde-school-shooting-lawsuit-city-district-attorney/.
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