Uvalde school district places police Chief Pete Arredondo on administrative leave, superintendent announces
“Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date,” Harrell wrote in the announcement to the media.
Lt. Mike Hernandez is assuming the duties of the UCISD Chief of Police, Harrell said.
The superintendent wrote that he had intended to wait for an investigation to be finished before making personnel decisions.
“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” he wrote.
Arredondo testified Tuesday behind closed doors in Austin to a Texas House committee seeking answers to what happened May 24 when 21 people were gunned down at an elementary school, but has not spoken publicly about his decision-making on the day of the shooting.
The school district’s announcement comes a day after the Uvalde City Council, of which Arredondo is a new member, voted to deny his request for a leave of absence.
Harrell is not alone in appearing to be frustrated by the lack of information from investigators.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday slammed the Texas Department of Public Security (DPS) for its lack of transparency and accused its director, Col. Steven McCraw, of intentionally minimizing his agency’s mistakes in the weeks following the massacre at Robb Elementary School.
“Col. McCraw has an agenda and it is not to present a full report on what happened and give factual answers on what happened to this community,” he added.
In addition, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat representing the County of Uvalde, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against DPS, arguing the agency violated the Texas Public Information Act when his request for information on the shooting was ignored.
“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” the lawsuit states.
The DPS director accused Arredondo, who McCraw and others have identified as the on-scene commander, of ordering police to wait in a nearby hallway for unnecessary equipment and keys to a door that was not even locked.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the West building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said. “The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
Yet authorities have repeatedly changed their account of key facts about what happened inside the rooms and what police did in response during those 77 minutes.
McLaughlin said that the repeated misstatements and blame-shifting from Texas authorities was dividing the community and frustrating grieving families
“What matters to Uvalde is that these brokenhearted families and this grieving community get a full investigation and an accurate report of what happened that day,” he said. “The petty infighting, the clickbait headlines and the politically motivated scapegoating is not helping anyone.”
CNN has reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the district attorney’s office, the chair of the Texas House investigating committee and the San Antonio office of the FBI for further comment.
State senator’s lawsuit challenges DPS secrecy
In his lawsuit filed Wednesday, Gutierrez challenged the DPS’s decisions to withhold information from the public, including police bodycam footage, 911 audio and ballistics reports.
“DPS has violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government by failing to provide public documents that are presumed to be public within a reasonable time,” the lawsuit states.
In a section titled “The Cover-Up,” the lawsuit notes that DPS has used an exception to the law to keep records private.
“These government agencies have used the ‘on going law enforcement exception’ to the Texas open records law to disallow access to information that might shed light on the response to the school shooting,” the lawsuit states.
Gutierrez is asking the Travis County District Court to rule that DPS immediately provide the documents in his records request.
District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee issued a statement two weeks ago stating the shooting was being investigated by the FBI and Texas Rangers and that “any release of records to that incident at this time would interfere with said ongoing investigation and would impede a thorough and complete investigation.”
Still, Kelley Shannon, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, urged transparency in a statement Wednesday.
“It is important to note that the Texas Public Information Act does not require law enforcement investigators to withhold information from the public about a crime,” Shannon said. “The law enforcement exception to release is discretionary. In fact, many police and prosecutors across Texas routinely release investigative information to the public when they feel the need to — whether to help catch a wanted suspect, to seek more tips about a crime or to showcase the positive performance of police.”
Mayor says he’s frustrated by lack of transparency
At the city council meeting, McLaughlin noted that officers from at least eight law enforcement agencies were in the hallway outside the classrooms on the day of the shooting. McLaughlin said he has no desire to pursue elected office again and is “not covering up for anybody,” saying all responding agencies should be held accountable.
He said the leaking of certain bits of information over the past few weeks “continues to create chaos in our community and keeps the whole truth from coming out.”
“I’m just as frustrated — maybe not as frustrated as the families that have lost their loved ones — but it pisses me off that I can’t give you answers or can’t get you answers,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said he was meant to receive a daily briefing from authorities since its onset but none has been provided.
“The gloves are off. As we know it, we will share it. We are not going to hold back anymore,” he said.
The city council meeting also took issue with Arredondo’s absence from the public eye.
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Andy Rose, Christina Maxouris, Amanda Musa, Rosalina Nieves, Amy Simonson and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
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