The school police chief faulted for having officers stay back during a gunman’s deadly siege at a campus in Uvalde, Texas, last week is free to take his elected seat on the City Council, the mayor said Monday.
Peter Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, was said to be the incident commander who ordered officers to remain outside during the more-than-hourlong siege at Robb Elementary School last week.
Despite the ultimate presence of city, state and federal law enforcement officers who presumably could have pulled rank and assumed command, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said it was Arredondo’s decision alone to await more resources for what he believed was a barricaded suspect.
A SWAT-like team of agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection apparently defied the chief’s order, breached a classroom area and fatally shot the suspect more than an hour after the mass shooting started.
Nineteen children and two teachers died in the gunfire 70 miles east of the port of entry at Del Rio, propelled by a semi-automatic, high-power rifle believed to be a clone of the AR-15 originally developed for use in combat.
Arredondo was elected May 7 to one of five council seats by getting 126 votes, more than two-thirds of the total in the city of more than 15,000. He was scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday, but Mayor Don McLaughlin said the event was being postponed so the city’s focus can remain on survivors.
Arredondo told the Uvalde Leader-News in a story published May 12 that he was anticipating the additional role.
“I’m very excited, I am ready to hit the ground running,” the chief is quoted as saying. “I have plenty of ideas, and I definitely have plenty of drive.”
McLaughlin said in a statement Monday: “There is nothing in the City Charter, Election Code, or Texas Constitution that prohibits him from taking the oath of office. To our knowledge, we are currently not aware of any investigation of Mr. Arredondo.”
Arredondo, facing questions about the wait that may have affected survival for those struck by gunfire, hasn’t responded to requests for comment since he provided the news media with initial information about the tragedy May 24.
In an interview distributed to television stations nationwide Monday, the mayor indicated that he supports Arredondo and his additional role.
“There’s nothing that I can do to change that,” McLaughlin said. “Not that I want to. I mean, he was duly elected, and that’s something Pete and, I’m sure, the people in his district will come to terms with.”
McLaughlin said in the statement it was his request that prompted the Justice Department to announce Sunday that it will review law enforcement’s response to the attack.
The critical incident review aims “to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Sunday.
The mayor thanked the Justice Department in Monday’s statement for committing to the review.
“I trust the assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent,” McLaughlin said in the statement. “The victim’s families deserve answers, and the truth will be told.”
He rebutted an assertion by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who said Saturday on Fox News that state leaders “were not told the truth” about how the police response unfolded.
Gov. Greg Abbott initially said a school resource officer confronted the killer as he entered the campus, but McCraw, the head of the state Department of Public Safety, or DPS, later said that wasn’t true: The officer in question apparently drove by the attacker, who was crouched next to a car.
McLaughlin said no false information came from local police. “All statements and comments made to date about the ongoing investigation are being handled by DPS/Texas Rangers,” he said in his statement.
The investigation into the roots and motive behind the attack is being conducted the DPS.
McLaughlin said in the television interview that it’s important to identify and learn the lessons of the tragedy.
“I want to make sure that we can let everybody know what happened in our community,” he said, “so that other towns can better prepare for this.”
Amy Calvin and Natalie Obregon contributed.