Report On Uvalde Shooting Finds Systemic Failures In Police Response

Report on Uvalde Shooting Finds ‘Systemic Failures’ in Police Response

The decision to finally confront the gunman was made by a small group of officers and could have been made far earlier, the report found.

HOUSTON — The first comprehensive assessment of the law enforcement response to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, found that blame for the failure to swiftly confront the gunman rested not only with the school police chief, but also with the scores of state and federal officers who gathered at the deadly scene but did not act.

The 77-page report, released Sunday by a special Texas House committee, represented a broad indictment of police inaction at Robb Elementary School, citing “systemic failures” that left the school inadequately secured and the police officers who responded mired in confusion and bad information.

Nearly 400 officers responded to the school that day. Yet the decision to finally confront the gunman was made by a small group of officers, including specially trained Border Patrol agents and a deputy sheriff from a neighboring county, the report found, concluding that others at the scene could have taken charge and done so far earlier.

The findings represented the most complete outside account of what took place during the 77 minutes between when the gunman began firing inside the classrooms and when the police finally stormed in and ended the May 24 massacre that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

But the report found that a flawless police response would not have saved most of the victims, who suffered devastating injuries when they were shot with a high-powered AR-15-style rifle by a gunman who had been waiting for his 18th birthday to purchase the weapon legally.

Some died on the way to the hospital, the report noted, adding in a final footnote that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait” for rescue.

“If there’s only one thing that I can tell you is, there were multiple systemic failures,” State Representative Dustin Burrows, who spearheaded the investigation, said at a news conference on Sunday. “Several officers in the hallway or in that building knew or should have known there was dying in that classroom, and they should have done more, acted with urgency.”

Mr. Burrows added that it would be up to the individual agencies to hold their officers accountable. The goal of the committee, he said, was to provide relatives of the victims and the public with information.

The officers waited, the report found, even as at least one high-ranking official — the acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department — learned that a teacher was wounded but still alive and that a child had been calling 911 for help from inside the classrooms. The committee found that none of the officers who learned of the calls advocated for “shifting to an active shooter-style response or otherwise acting more urgently to breach the classrooms.”

After the report came out, the mayor of Uvalde, Don McLaughlin, said the acting chief during the shooting, Lt. Mariano Pargas, had been placed on administrative leave and that the city had begun its own internal investigation. The city released body camera footage documenting the actions of the Uvalde officers at the scene.

The facts laid out in the report also made clear that neither existing gun laws, nor expanded background checks passed by Congress in response to the shooting, would have prevented the gunman, Salvador Ramos, from obtaining the weapon he used.

Though referred to by some peers as a “school shooter,” the gunman had no documented history that prevented him from purchasing a weapon. The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature has so far not considered any legislation restricting firearms in response to the Uvalde shooting, focusing much of its attention during public hearings on the police response and on security at schools.

While the narrative presented by the committee added disturbing new details, it did not substantially change the public understanding of what took place at Robb Elementary School as it has been pieced together by The New York Times and other news organizations over the intervening weeks.

Instead, it deepened the sense of a rudderless law enforcement response.

Officers massed on the north and south sides of the classrooms where the gunman was holed up, but they did not communicate with one another, the report found. Despite a search for a master key to the classrooms by the school police chief, Pete Arredondo, and others, no one called the principal, who had one. The usefulness of a specialized tool to pry open the door was tested but then rejected as too dangerous to officers.

The chief of the Uvalde police department called from his vacation to tell the acting chief, Lieutenant Pargas, to set up a command post. Mr. Pargas did so, in an office at a funeral home across the street, but then left it shortly thereafter. “This did not result in the establishment of an effective command post,” the report found.

The report found that of the four ballistics shields brought to the scene, “only the last shield, furnished by the U.S. Marshals, was rifle-rated.” It arrived at 12:21 p.m. — nearly 50 minutes after the gunman began shooting.

The findings served to clarify and solidify what had been a frequently shifting official account of events at the school. The report found that one reason that flawed information made its way into an initial news conference, held by Gov. Greg Abbott the day after the shooting, was that a Uvalde police lieutenant who had been at the scene and was supposed to brief the governor “literally passed out while waiting in the hallway beforehand.” A regional director for the state police held the briefing instead, but his information was secondhand, the report said.

Still, the facts of what unfolded were unclear even to some of the participants, the report found.

For example, one of the first officers at the school, a Uvalde police officer armed with an AR-15-style rifle, arrived to the sound of gunfire and saw a person dressed in black. The officer took cover, believing the person to be the gunman, and later told other officers who responded and investigators that he had not tried to fire at the person because of children nearby.

But the person had not been the gunman, the report found, but rather a school coach hustling children to safety.

False information spread among the officers who arrived outside, according to the report, and “likely prevented some of them from taking a more assertive role.”

The committee reached a more expansive conclusion about the nature of the failures than the one offered by the director of the state police, Steven McCraw, who has placed the blame in his public statements squarely on Mr. Arredondo.

The report found the “egregious poor decision making” went beyond Mr. Arredondo and included the dozens of well-armed officers from Mr. McCraw’s own agency, the Department of Public Safety, as well as the scores from the U.S. Border Patrol. Spokesmen for both agencies did not respond to requests for comment.

While many of the officers interviewed by the committee said that they considered Mr. Arredondo to be the incident commander, others said they were not aware of who was in charge, the report said, creating a chaotic vacuum of leadership that the larger state and federal agencies could have moved to fill but did not.

“Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde C.I.S.D. chief of police,” the report said, referring to Mr. Arredondo, “or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance.”

Yet even as details became clearer, the larger contours of what is known about the deadly event remained the same: The gunman entered the school without being confronted by any officer, through one of three exterior doors that were not locked, and went directly to the classrooms where he began shooting.

A lockdown alert was sent to school staff at the school, according to the report, but the staff might not have acted with urgency during the lockdown because of the frequent alerts related to nearby police chases and deliberate crashes of vehicles suspected of carrying undocumented migrants, known as “bailouts.” Not seeing any injured students in the hallways, one sergeant told the committee he thought it might be a “bailout” situation, the report said.

Video Player Loading
Surveillance footage from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shows officers retreating from gunfire and waiting for 77 minutes before confronting the gunman. The delayed police response has been widely criticized and is under investigation.The New York Times

Still, as seen on a surveillance video released as part of the report, local police officers, including Mr. Arredondo, arrived minutes later but retreated down a hallway after being met with gunfire at the doorway to one of the classrooms. Even as more heavily armed officers arrived, along with ballistic shields, they did not attempt to enter the classroom again for over an hour.

That was the “wrong decision,” Mr. McCraw said in the days after, saying the call to do so had been made by Mr. Arredondo, who he said was the incident commander.

Mr. Arredondo told the committee that he did not consider himself to be in that role during the massacre and thought someone else would take that role. But the committee found that he should have been the incident commander, based on the school district’s own response plan for a school shooting, which calls for the school police chief to “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

Mr. Arredondo, in his own interview with the committee, said he might have acted to breach the classroom sooner had he known there were still victims alive inside. “We probably would have rallied a little more, to say, ‘Okay, someone is in there,’” he told the committee.

The school police chief “periodically attempted” to communicate with the gunman, both in English and Spanish, the report said, including immediately after four shots were fired inside the classroom.

“Mr. Ramos? Can you hear us, Mr. Ramos? Please respond,” Mr. Arredondo could be heard saying, according to a transcript reviewed by The Times.

The breakdown in communications was such that the acting Uvalde police chief, Lieutenant Pargas, told the committee that he was never in communication with Mr. Arredondo.

By the time the specialized Border Patrol agents, known as BORTAC, and others breached the classrooms, the report found, “tactical command inside the building had been de facto assumed by BORTAC.”

The three-member committee that prepared the report included two State House members — Mr. Burrows, a Lubbock Republican, and Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat — as well as a former state Supreme Court Justice, Eva Guzman, who recently ran an unsuccessful Republican primary bid for attorney general.

During a solemn meeting with the committee on Sunday before the report’s public release, more than 40 relatives of the 21 victims asked methodical questions about the committee’s work and a more definitive timeline of events, said Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher who survived the shooting and attended the meeting.

Jesus Rizo, the uncle of one of the victims, Jackie Cazares, said he was struck most by the lack of leadership at a time when the schoolchildren needed help the most.

“The highlight was the inadequate response, the failure of leadership,” Mr. Rizo said.

Leonard Sandoval, whose grandson Xavier Lopez died on the way to the hospital after being shot at Robb Elementary, said the report laid bare what the community had long known: that officers failed to stop the shooter in time and then released misleading information to the public.

Xavier, he later learned, had suffered a single shot in the back and was alive when the officers finally breached the classrooms. He was pronounced dead at a hospital, Mr. Sandoval said.

“We all make mistakes. We are all human. But they should have admitted to it and then resigned,” Mr. Sandoval said. “It’s the lying that hurts.”

Original Source