The Uvalde school district’s embattled police chief was fired on Wednesday after a report found that he made several critical mistakes when responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
In a unanimous vote, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s board of trustees dismissed police Chief Pete Arredondo, three months to the day after one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history.
Arredondo has been on leave from the district since June 22, after questions first arose about the police response to the mass shooting, when officers stood back for more than an hour while 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos barricaded himself inside a classroom and opened fire.
Officials have said Arredondo should have acted sooner in the massacre, as he was in charge of the law enforcement response to the shooting.
He is now the first officer dismissed over the bungled response to the May 24 tragedy, with only one other officer — Uvalde Police Department Lt. Mariano Pargas, the city’s acting police chief on the day of massacre — known to have been placed on leave for their actions during the shooting.
Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredndo has been fired from his position
Officials say he should have acted sooner in the Robb Elementary School shooting, as he was in charge of the law enforcement response to the attack. He is pictured here at a news conference following the massacre
Police-worn body camera footage showed how officers stayed in the hallway for more than an hour as Salvador Ramos continued to fire
Arredondo did not attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, even as he asked to be taken off of suspension and receive backpay, according to the Texas Tribune.
He made the request through his attorney, George E Hyde, who told the school board: ‘Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own legal and unconstitutional public lynching, and respectfully requests the board immediately reinstate him with all backpay and benefits, and close the complaint as unfounded.’
Hyde also released a scathing 4,500-word letter that amounted to the police chief’s fullest defense to date of his actions.
Over the 17 defiant pages, he asserts Arredondo is not the fumbling school police chief who a damning state investigation blamed for not taking command and wasted time by looking for keys to a likely unlocked door, but is instead a brave officer whose level-headed decisions saved the lives of other students.
The letter also accused Uvalde school officials of putting his life at risk by not letting him carry a weapon to the school board meeting.
‘Chief Arredondo is a leader and a courageous officer who with all of the other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time,’ Hyde said.
But Uvalde school officials have been under mounting pressure from victims’ families and members of the community, many of whom have called for Arredondo’s termination.
Superintendent Hal Harrell had first moved to fire Arredondo in July but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s attorney.
Then as the school board meeting got underway on Wednesday, the nearly 100 people in attendance accused him of being a ‘coward,’ as they chanted ‘no justice, no peace.’
Four people spoke during a public comment period before the board met in private to discuss Arredondo’s fate.
Among them was Ruben Torres, father of Chloe Torres, who survived the shooting in room 112 of the school. He said that as a former Marine, he took an oath that he faithfully executed willingly, and did not understand why officers did not take action when leadership failed.
‘Right now, being young, she is having a hard time handling this horrific event,’ Torres said.
A young girl spoke to members of the Uvalde school board on Wednesday as they deliberated on whether Arredondo should be fired
The school board has been under mounting pressure from victims’ families and members of the community to fire him. Attendees at the meting are seen holding signs calling for Arredondo to be fired
Texas Department of Safety troopers stood by as the meeting got under way
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which had more than 90 state troopers at the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the response by state police.
School officials have said the campus at Robb Elementary will no longer be used.
Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for the elementary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in-person following the shooting.
School officials say a virtual academy will be offered for students, but has not said how many students will attend virtually.
A state law passed last year in Texas, though, limits the number of eligible students receiving remote instruction to ’10 percent of all enrolled students within a given school system.”‘
Schools can seek a waiver to exceed the limit but Uvalde has not done so, according to Melissa Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
Meanwhile, new measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include ‘8-foot, non-scalable perimeter fencing’ at elementary, middle and high school campuses, according to the school district.
Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, enhanced training for district staff and improving communication.
However, according to the district’s own progress reports, as of Tuesday no fencing had been erected at six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and cameras had only been installed at the high school.
Some progress had been made on locks at three of eight campuses, and communication improvement was marked as half complete for each campus.
Uvalde CISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.