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Former Uvalde police chief indicted for botched response to shooting

The former school police chief of Uvalde, Texas, has been indicted over the botched response to the 2022 shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary School.

Uvalde County Jail officials confirmed that Pedro “Pete” Arredondo was booked into the facility on 10 counts of abandoning or endangering a child shortly before 5 p.m. local time Thursday. Arredondo’s bail was set at $100,000, or $10,000 per charge. He posted bail shortly after being booked into the jail.

Local media reported that a former officer, Adrian Gonzales, had also been charged. The charges were first reported by the San Antonio Express-News. District Attorney Christina Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.

The officers are the first to be charged in the shooting, which sparked outrage both because of the 18-year-old shooter’s brutality and the lengthy delay in police entering the classroom and killing him. Texas leaders initially praised the police response, but later acknowledged that officers waited 77 minutes to confront the shooter.

Legal experts said the charges appear to mark an unprecedented enforcement of the child endangerment law and noted that the 10 counts likely refer to the 10 children who survived the deadly attack that day there by pretending to be dead or hiding among the dead.

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing 575-page report that criticized local police commanders and state law enforcement for failing to immediately enter the classroom and kill the shooter. Attorney General Merrick Garland said “lives would have been saved” if police had intervened quickly.

Officers arrived at the school but quickly retreated in the face of gunfire, deciding to treat the shooter as a barricaded suspect and wait for backup. Meanwhile, officers spent about 40 minutes searching for a key to a classroom that federal examiners said likely remained unlocked throughout the incident.

From the start, much of the blame was placed on Arredondo, who at the time headed the Uvalde school system’s police force. The former chief repeatedly asked officers trying to enter the classroom to stop, the review found, because he believed there were other victims from neighboring classrooms who should be removed first.

Arredondo defended his response, saying he did not believe he was in charge. But the Justice Department’s review concluded that Arredondo was the “de facto on-site commander” and failed to deliver.

Gonzales was one of the first police officers on the scene. He correctly identified the classroom where the carnage was unfolding as that of Eva Mireles, the wife of a Uvalde school district police officer. But Gonzales, who had undergone active shooter training, told investigators he did not approach the classroom and had difficulty transmitting information over the radio.

Mireles was still alive when officers removed her from the classroom more than an hour after the shooting, but she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Legal experts do not recall any previous cases in which Texas law enforcement officers have faced child endangerment charges, which are typically brought against parents, guardians or people related to child victims.

But there is a section of the law that gives prosecutors the ability to charge a person they believe knowingly acted or failed to act in a way that put a child in imminent danger of death or of bodily injury. There is ample evidence demonstrating law enforcement inaction that day, regarding body camera videos, radio communications and other recordings.

“It’s rare to have a case where we have such a well-documented period of time where the police were called and it took over an hour to reach the shooter and the victims,” said Ben Varghese, a criminal defense attorney based in Fort Worth.

Whether or not Mitchell, the Uvalde County district attorney, secures a conviction, the charges “send a message directly to law enforcement: If you’re a police officer and you know a child is in danger, you can’t wait an hour to interact with a bad actor. ” said Varghese.

It is possible that the two former officers, Arredondo and Gonzales, were chosen from the hundreds present that day because prosecutors believe that “they were the ones making the decisions and telling the officers what they could or couldn’t do,” said Houston-based criminal defense attorney Nicole. From Borde.

“It’s not surprising that there are criminal charges,” she said. “But the challenge is getting a conviction, because there are defendants who have no other connection to the children other than they got a call for help in very unforeseeable circumstances and now they’re being prosecuted for the decisions they made that day.”

The charges follow two years of intense pressure from victims’ families, who demanded accountability from the district attorney’s office. Mitchell endured months of skepticism and criticism from across the state and the country as the months dragged on and the Texas Rangers wrapped up their investigation.

But DeBorde said the sheer volume of evidence and size of the crime scene likely required careful and careful review to identify any potential charges. Mitchell convened a grand jury in January that returned an indictment within the three-year statute of limitations on that charge, Varghese said.

The poorly organized response hampered emergency medical personnel’s attempts to quickly treat victims. Delays in medical response were highlighted in a 2022 Washington Post investigation with the Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

A Post investigation found that the overall delay in implementing the law was due to the inaction of a number of senior management and oversee law enforcement Police officers, some of whom remained on duty and had direct knowledge that a shooting was taking place in the classrooms, failed to quickly stop the shooter.

News Source : www.washingtonpost.com
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