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Former Uvalde schools police chief indicted for role in Robb Elementary shooting response

Former Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo and a former officer have been indicted on charges of child endangerment in connection with the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Evan L'Roy for The Texas Tribune
Former Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo and a former officer have been indicted on charges of child endangerment in connection with the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

A Uvalde County grand jury has indicted former school district police Chief Pete Arredondo and another former district officer on charges of child endangerment, the first criminal charges brought against law enforcement for the botched response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, the San Antonio Express-News first reported.

Arredondo and Adrian Gonzales face felony charges of abandoning or endangering a child, the newspaper reported.

The charges come more than two years after the May 24, 2022 shooting, in which a lone gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell convened a grand jury in January to investigate law enforcement’s delayed response and to determine whether to bring criminal charges against any of the nearly 400 federal, state and local officers involved in the response. Law enforcement officers waited 77 minutes to confront the gunman, who was ultimately shot and killed by Border Patrol officers.

The botched law enforcement response has been widely criticized, including in a January U.S. Justice Department report. That report documented failures in leadership, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that lives could have been saved had law enforcement acted sooner.

In the months following the shooting, about a dozen officers were fired, suspended or retired. Arredondo was fired about three months after the shooting. He was listed as incident commander on the school district’s active shooter response plan.

On Thursday, the district attorney briefed some families of victims about the indictment, said Jesse Rizo, whose niece Jacklyn Cazares was among the children killed in the shooting. Rizo said he was hopeful that the indicted officers would be prosecuted.

“I’m really hoping this is just the beginning of indictments that may be coming down,” Rizo said. “There are a lot of officers that need to be held accountable.”

Lalo Castillo, a local activist who said he learned of the indictments about an hour after they occurred, said he had expected state officials to face criminal charges, too.

“Especially the state troopers because they were the first ones there,” Castillo said, referring to officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety

The DA’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Efforts to reach Arredondo and Gonzales were unsuccessful.

It is not clear whether any other officers will face criminal charges. Grand jury proceedings in Texas are secret, so witness testimony is not open to the public. Twelve grand jurors have been hearing evidence presented by the district attorney’s office.

DPS Director Steve McCraw is among those who have testified before the grand jury. McCraw previously blamed local officers for the bungled response. In 2022, he testified before the Texas Senate and said it wasn’t feasible for his officers to assume command, even though Arredondo was not acting quickly. In total, 91 of the responding officers were from DPS.

Police officers have legal protections that make it difficult to successfully bring criminal charges against them. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that officers don’t have a constitutional “duty to protect,” even if they are trained to do so. Legal experts have saidprosecutors may have a difficult burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that officers were under a legal duty to act and in failing to do so, caused harm.

The grand jury investigation is one of at least sixofficial probes launched after the shooting. Those investigations have largely left family members of the victims frustrated. They, along with community activists, have continued to push for increased transparency and accountability.

Most recently, the city of Uvalde released an independent review that cleared all local officers of wrongdoing, frustrating parents of the children killed in the massacre and at least some local government officials.

Private investigator Jesse Prado, who conducted that review, identified lapses in leadership but also commended some officers and said they acted in “good faith.” Prado also blamed the district attorney for not cooperating with his investigation. Mitchell is in possession of a state police report but has yet to make that report public.

Days after Prado’s review became public, Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez, who was on vacation when the school shooting occurred, announced his resignation. On the day of the shooting, Rodriguez spoke with acting chief Lt. Mariano Pargas and asked him to set up a command post, according to the city-commissioned review. Pargas did not set up a post. He stepped down from the Uvalde Police Department in November 2022.

Rizo, whose niece died in the shooting, said he is hopeful that Pargas also faces criminal charges.

“He’s just as guilty as Arredondo,” Rizo said.

In the absence of concrete action by elected officials, some families have filed civil lawsuits. Relatives of 17 of the children killed and two who were injured sued DPS in May, the day before the second anniversary of the shooting. The families also reached a $2 million settlement with the city of Uvalde, and the city committed to providing enhanced training for current and future law enforcement officers.

Relatives also filed a separate lawsuit against Daniel Defense, the company that manufactured the shooter’s gun, as well as California-based companies Meta and Activision.

From the Texas Tribune