How charges against two Uvalde School police officers are frustrating some families

AUSTIN – Two indictments against former Uvalde School Police officers are the first charges filed against law enforcement in connection with the botched operation that left hundreds of officers waiting more than an hour to confront an 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

For some Uvalde families who have been demanding police accountability for two years, the charges sparked a mix of relief and frustration. Some question why more police officers have not been charged as they waited to go into classrooms where some victims lay dying or begged for help to help end one of the worst school massacres in U.S. history more quickly.

Charges filed for Uvalde School shooting

Pete Arredondo, left, and Adrian Gonzales, right

Former Uvalde Schools Police Chief Pete Arredondo and former police officer Adrian Gonzales were indicted by a Uvalde County grand jury on June 26 on multiple counts of child endangerment and neglect, alleging their actions and failure to immediately confront the shooter. They were among the first of nearly 400 federal, state and local officials to converge on the school that day.

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“I want every single person that was in the hallway to be charged for failing to protect the most innocent,” said Velma Duran, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the teachers killed. “My sister put her body in front of those children to protect them. They could have done it. They had the means and the tools to do it. My sister had her body.”

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell has not commented on whether additional officers will face charges or whether the grand jury’s work has been completed.

Here are some things you should know about the criminal investigation into the police response:

The shoot

The gunman stormed the school on May 24, 2022 and killed his victims in two classrooms.

More than 370 officers responded but waited more than 70 minutes before they could confront the shooter, even though he could be heard firing an AR-15-style rifle.

Terrified students in classrooms called 911 while desperate parents begged police to intervene. Some of them heard gunshots while standing in a hallway. Eventually, a tactical response team entered the classroom and killed the gunman.

Damning state and federal investigative reports into the police response cite “cascading failures” in training, communications, leadership and technology.

The fees

The indictment against Arredondo, who was on-scene operations commander at the time of the shooting, accuses the police chief of delaying police intervention despite hearing gunshots and learning that there were injured children in the classrooms and that a teacher had been shot.

Arredondo called a SWAT team, ordered the first police officers to leave the building and tried to negotiate with the 18-year-old gunman, the indictment said. The grand jury said it considered his actions criminal negligence.

Gonzales was accused of abandoning his training and not confronting the shooter even though he heard gunshots in a hallway.

All charges are serious state crimes that, if convicted, can carry a prison sentence of up to two years.

Shooting at a school in Texas

Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, third from left, participates in a news conference outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 26, 2022.

Dario Lopez-Mills, Associated Press

Arredondo said in an interview with the Texas Tribune in 2022 that he tried to “eliminate any threats and protect the students and staff.” Gonzalez’s attorney on Friday called the charges “unprecedented in the state of Texas” and said the officer was convinced he had not broken any laws or school district policies.

The first U.S. police officer to face trial for alleged negligence during a campus shooting was a sheriff’s deputy on a Florida campus who failed to go into the classroom and confront the perpetrator of the 2018 Parkland massacre. The deputy, who was fired, was acquitted of negligence last year. A lawsuit by the victims’ families and survivors is pending.

The complaints

The families are demanding that authorities be held accountable in other state and federal courts, and some of them have filed multiple civil lawsuits.

Two days before the second anniversary of the shooting, the families of 19 victims filed a $500 million lawsuit against nearly 100 state police officers involved in the botched response. The suit accuses the officers of failing to follow their training in the event of a shooting and failing to confront the shooter. The highest-ranking Department of Public Safety official named as a defendant is South Texas Regional Director Victor Escalon.

The same families also reached a $2 million settlement with the city in which city leaders promised higher standards in the hiring and training of local police.

On May 24, a group of families sued Meta Platforms, which owns Instagram, and the maker of the video game Call of Duty, claiming the companies were responsible for the weapons used by the teenage shooter.

They also filed another lawsuit against gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, which manufactured the AR rifle used by the shooter.

Last year, Texas lawmakers passed a law requiring armed police officers in every school. Nine months later, investigations show that’s not the case.

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