County commissioners in Uvalde, Texas, voted 3-0 Monday to launch an independent review into the actions of responding sheriff’s deputies during the massacre at Robb Elementary School in May in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.
County Commissioner John Yeackle said the initiative was to ensure residents receive a comprehensive report they can trust into how deputies with the sheriff’s office performed that day. The review will also address the sheriff’s office policies and procedures, he said, noting that the office lacked an active shooter policy.
“We didn’t have an active shooter policy at the county. That is not surprising because many small communities never think that it will happen to them and don’t have a written policy to that effect,” he said. “That will be something that will definitely have to be addressed going forward.”
Yeackle also said that based on previously released videos showing officers at the scene of the shooting, “no one seemed to know who was in charge.”
At the meeting, some members of the public addressed their frustrations that investigations have been slow coming, as have answers to what responding officers from multiple agencies did and didn’t do during the May 24 massacre.
Brett Cross, the father of Uziyah Garcia, 10, who died in the shooting, spoke at the meeting. He said after that police and public officials have not been held accountable.
“It’s a continuous slap in the face every single day because nobody is taking accountability — nobody is,” he said. “Everybody wants to run and hide and blame it on this and blame it on that. The fact is, the city failed us. The school failed us. This county has failed us.”
Cross and others who spoke during the meeting Monday were highly critical of County Commissioner Mariano Pargas, who was not present during the vote.
Cross said at the meeting: “We have a county commissioner who was on the scene, didn’t do a damn thing. And he still has his position. He didn’t even show up today.”
Earlier this month, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that Pargas, who is also Uvalde’s acting chief of police, has been placed on leave as the city launched an investigation into his response and that of his officers.
In a statement, McLaughlin said the city’s inquiry would “investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations.”
Pargas could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. No one with the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office could be reached.
County Commissioner Ronald Garza told NBC News that they have yet to determine which consulting firm will conduct the independent review.
The Uvalde public school board on Friday put off a special meeting initially scheduled for Saturday to discuss potentially firing its embattled police chief, Pete Arredondo.
The board cited Arredondo’s right to defend his actions during the mass shooting amid a disorganized multi-agency law enforcement response.
“In conformity with due process requirements, and at the request of his attorney, the meeting to consider the termination of Chief Arredondo will be held at a later date which has yet to be determined,” district spokesperson Anne Marie Espinoza said in a statement.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District placed Arredondo on paid leave June 22 amid multiple investigations into the delayed law enforcement response.
On Monday, Ricardo G. Cedillo, a lawyer for Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez, confirmed she had been placed on administrative leave by the district’s superintendent for reasons the schools chief has not revealed.
The school has been criticized because a lockset in apparent disrepair — it wouldn’t latch — may have allowed the shooter to enter the first classroom he occupied that day.
A Texas House committee report on the alleged failings of police and the school district before and during the attack said that school administrators knew about the lock but did not order repair or replacement.
The campus was, in fact, home to a “culture of noncompliance,” where some teachers flouted rules by keeping doors propped open instead of ensuring they were locked, the report said.
And when the school announced its lockdown during the attack, some teachers received delayed notices because the campus had poor Wi-Fi, the legislative report said. Administrators could have used the campus intercom system, but that didn’t happen, according to the document.
A spokesperson for the district did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.
It took about 77 minutes between the arrival of the first officers and when law enforcement finally took out the shooter.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has placed blame on Arredondo, who he said was the incident commander. Arredondo’s department has six sworn employees, but there were much larger agencies at the scene, including DPS and U.S. Border Patrol.
“There were plenty of officers to do what needed to be done, with one exception, is that the incident commander inside believed he needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that time,” McCraw said three days after the shooting.
Arredondo has defended himself, saying he didn’t know he was supposed to be the incident commander, and that he went to the classroom where shots were being fired where he thought he could be of help.
He left his radios behind, however, and stood by as a key for a classroom door was sought, which took up precious time.
In early July, Arredondo resigned from his elected City Council seat about one month after he was sworn in.
That legislative report also faulted “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” by law enforcement and the school district.
“The scene was chaotic, without any person obviously in charge or directing the law enforcement response,” it noted.