Texas School Shooting: Police inaction moves into investigation center of Uvalde massacre
The delay in confronting the shooter, who was at school for more than an hour, could result in disciplinary action, lawsuits and even criminal charges against the police.
The attack, which killed 19 children and two teachers in a fourth-grade classroom, was the deadliest school shooting in the country in nearly a decade, and for three days police offered a confusing and sometimes conflicting timeline that fueled public anger and caused frustration.
As of Friday, authorities acknowledged that students and teachers repeatedly called 911 operators for help, while the police chief asked more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway at Robb Elementary School. Officials said he believed the suspect was barricaded in adjacent classrooms and that there was no longer an active attack.
The chief’s decision – and officers’ apparent willingness to follow his orders in defiance of established active shooter protocols – raised questions about whether more lives were lost because officers failed to act faster to stop the shooter, and who should be held responsible.
“In these cases, I think the court of public opinion is far worse than any court or administrative proceeding of the police department,” said Joe Giacalone, a retired New York City police sergeant. “This has been handled so terribly on so many levels that there will be a sacrificial lamb here or there.”
When the gunman fired at students, police officers from other agencies asked the school’s police chief to let them move in because children were in danger, two police officers said.
The officers spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
One of the officers said audio recordings of the crime scene arrested officers from other agencies, who told the school’s police chief that the shooter was still active and that stopping him was a priority. But it wasn’t clear why the Headmaster ignored her warnings.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who at a news conference earlier in the week praised police for saving lives, said he was misled about the initial response and promised there would be inquiries into “exactly who did what.” knew when, who was responsible “And what they did.
“The bottom line would be, why didn’t they choose the best strategy to get in there and eliminate the killer and save the children?” Abbott said.
School shootings rarely lead to criminal charges being brought against law enforcement. A notable exception was the former school resource officer, who was accused of hiding during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.
Potential administrative penalties — imposed by the department itself — could range from a suspension or pay cut to forced resignation or retirement, or outright termination.
Regarding civil liability, the legal doctrine known as “qualified immunity”, which protects police officers from lawsuits unless their actions violate clearly established laws, could also play a role in future litigation.
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo decided the group of officers should wait to confront the attacker, assuming the active assault was over, according to Texas Department of Public Safety chief Steven McCraw.
The crisis ended shortly after officers used a janitor’s keys to open the classroom door, entered the room, and shot Ramos dead.
Arredondo could not be reached for comment on Friday and Uvalde officers were stationed outside his home, but they would not say why.
Prosecutors must determine whether Arredondo’s decision and the officers’ inaction constituted a tragic error or criminal negligence, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Levenson said prosecutors could pursue involuntary manslaughter charges, although she said federal civil rights charges are unlikely because they require intent.
“I don’t know that we expect every officer to make a perfect decision on the spot,” she said. “But waiting that long — given what we know about shooter behavior — predictably leads to tragedy.”
In the Parkland case, former Broward County Assemblyman Scot Peterson is scheduled to stand trial in September on child neglect charges resulting in grievous bodily harm, negligent negligence and perjury. He said he did his best back then.
Florida prosecutors’ “unprecedented and irresponsible” decision to pursue criminal proceedings against Peterson could result in other police officers elsewhere being “deprived of their liberty” and serving decades in prison “simply because it is subsequently determined that things should have been.” may be handled differently,” Mark Eiglarsh, the former deputy’s attorney, said in an email.
Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the police department’s policies, procedures and training are being reviewed to see if officers on the ground in Uvalde are following them.
If they did and charges were still being brought, it would send a chilling message to police across the country, she said. “If you follow your procedures, you will still be charged. So what’s the point of proceedings?” She said.
But Jorge Colina, a former Miami police chief, wants to know more about what was going through the minds of officers at school when the boss told them to wait in the hall.
“Did anyone appeal the decision there?” he said. “Did anyone at least object?”
Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Uvalde, Texas; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Terry Spencer of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Mike Balsamo in Washington, DC contributed to this report.
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