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Grand jury called to investigate flawed police response to Uvalde shooting

By Maddy Rubin, The Texas Tribune

Grand jury called to investigate flawed police response to Uvalde 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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A special grand jury first convened Friday in Uvalde will investigate law enforcement’s delayed response to Texas’ deadliest school shooting to determine whether criminal charges can be filed against officers, the Uvalde Leader-News first reported.

Twelve people were selected to serve on the jury in Texas’ 38th Judicial District Court. Jurors will meet around twice a month to hear testimony from witnesses of the May 24, 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The attack killed 19 students and two teachers and injured 17 others.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell will also present her case to the jury, which will make a recommendation to her at the end of their investigation. The DA will then decide whether to pursue criminal charges against some of the nearly 400 law enforcement officers who responded to the scene.

The DA’s office did not respond to a request for comment and has not said who may be facing criminal charges.

On Thursday, the Justice Department released a long-awaited report detailing law enforcement’s bungled response to the shooting. The report criticized the “lack of urgency” demonstrated by former Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo and Uvalde Police Department Acting Chief Mariano Pargas, who both arrived at the school within minutes of the first round of shots fired.

The report also named Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco, Uvalde County Constables Emmanuel Zamora and Johnny Field, and an unidentified Texas Ranger as officers who did not question Arredondo and Pargas’ response.

“We’ve been calling for accountability, so hearing news of a grand jury convening, especially following the release of the DOJ’s report, feels like a step in the right direction,” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio on Friday evening. Mata-Rubio’s 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the shooting and she’s since been a fierce advocate for gun reform. “I am glad people are finally seeing the truth — our children, those two teachers, were failed.”

Federal officials did not directly answer whether any officers responding to the shooting should face criminal charges. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would leave that to the local district attorney because the Justice Department only has jurisdiction over federal crimes.

Kirk Burkhalter, Professor of Law at New York Law School, said he suspects that law enforcement officers could face three possible criminal charges: manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and abandoning or endangering a child. Burkhalter believes that Chief Pete Arredondo will be the “primary target” of the grand jury’s investigation.

“You can’t have this report that points the finger so harshly at the Chief of Police and all the multiple failures of law enforcement where deaths occurred, and not impanel a grand jury to further investigate this and see if criminal charges are warranted,” Burkhalter said.

The DA began her criminal investigation into police failures shortly after the shooting and initially indicated that it would be completed by the end of November 2022. She later told the Associated Press that the investigation would continue into 2024.

Although the convening of this grand jury comes one day after the release of the DOJ report, plans to convene the jury began last year, The Uvalde Leader-News reported.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/19/uvalde-school-shooting-grand-jury/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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