Former Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo Faces Charges

Former Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo Faces Charges

Former Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo Faces Charges

In a significant development following the tragic 2022 Uvalde school shooting, former Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo and former officer Adrian Gonzales have been indicted by a grand jury. The indictments, which include multiple counts of felony child endangerment and abandonment, mark the first criminal charges against law enforcement officers in connection with the botched response to one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

The Uvalde Leader-News and the San Antonio Express-News reported that District Attorney Christina Mitchell confirmed the indictments. The Austin American-Statesman also noted the indictments but did not identify the officers involved. The indictments were kept under seal until Arredondo and Gonzales were in custody, with both expected to turn themselves in by Friday.

The charges stem from the events of May 24, 2022, when an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in a classroom at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 children and two teachers. The gunman remained in the classroom for over 70 minutes before officers confronted and killed him. During this time, 376 law enforcement officers, including state police, Uvalde police, school officers, and U.S. Border Patrol agents, were present at the scene. Many officers waited in the hallway outside the classroom, even as the gunman continued to fire his AR-15-style rifle.

Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack, lost his job three months after the shooting. Several other officers involved were eventually fired, and separate investigations by the Department of Justice and state lawmakers criticized law enforcement for their delayed and inadequate response. A 600-page Justice Department report released in January detailed “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership, and technology on the day of the shooting.

The grand jury investigation, convened by District Attorney Christina Mitchell in January, aimed to determine whether to bring criminal charges against any of the nearly 400 federal, state, and local officers involved in the response. The botched law enforcement response has been widely criticized, with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland noting 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 the incident commander on the school district’s active shooter response plan.

On Thursday, the district attorney briefed some families of the victims about the indictment. Jesse Rizo, whose niece Jacklyn Cazares was among the children killed, expressed hope 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.”

Local activist Lalo Castillo, who learned of the indictments shortly after they occurred, had expected state officials to face criminal charges as well. “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 requests for comment, and efforts to reach Arredondo and Gonzales were unsuccessful. It remains unclear 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, who previously blamed local officers for the bungled response, is among those who have testified before the grand jury. In 2022, he testified before the Texas Senate, stating that 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 said prosecutors 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 six official probes launched after the shooting. These 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, stating 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 and stepped down from the Uvalde Police Department in November 2022.

Rizo, whose niece died in the shooting, expressed hope 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.

The indictments of Arredondo and Gonzales represent a significant step towards accountability in the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting. As the legal process unfolds, the community continues to seek justice and closure for the victims and their families.

Source: The Associated Press, Uvalde Leader-News, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, CNN

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