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Uvalde school district puts embattled police chief Pete Arredondo on leave

State officials have said Arredondo was the incident commander during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. He has said otherwise.
/ Source: NBC News

Pete Arredondo was put on administrative leave Wednesday as the police chief of the Uvalde school district, after more than a month of sharp criticism for his decision to delay confronting the gunman in the deadly shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, the district superintendent said.

Hal Harrell, superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, noted in a written statement Wednesday that he has said the district would wait until the investigation into the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary was complete before making personnel decisions.

“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” he said. “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.”

No further information was released about Arredondo or the decision. Lt. Mike Hernandez will take on the duties while the district searches for candidates to fill the position, Harrell said.

Related story: Slain Uvalde teacher’s officer husband tried to save his wife but was detained, had gun taken away

State authorities have described Arredondo as the incident commander during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School. Arredondo has said he did not consider himself as the officer in charge.

Officials have said Arredondo incorrectly treated the gunman as a barricaded suspect instead of an active shooter. After more than an hour, federal agents entered the room and fatally shot the 18-year-old gunman.

Federal and state investigations are being conducted into the law enforcement response to the shooting.

On Tuesday, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Col. Steve McCraw, described the law enforcement response as an “abject failure” during a state Senate committee hearing.

Related story: Police could have stopped Uvalde gunman within 3 minutes, Texas official says

McCraw went minute by minute explaining to lawmakers how police could have entered the unlocked room where the shooter was. In the initial days after the shooting, it was widely reported that police were kept from breaking into the classrooms and were looking for keys because of the doors were locked.

The lives of police officers, McCraw said, were valued more than those of the children killed. 

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none.”

Law enforcement officers and at least one ballistic shield were in Robb Elementary about 19 minutes after a gunman entered classrooms there, according an approximate timeline released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds passed from the time police entered the building until the gunman was killed, according to the timeline and McCraw.

Earlier this month, Arredondo, who has mostly kept a low profile and avoided media questions, told The Texas Tribune that officers never “hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk.”

Related: 3rd grade Texas shooting survivor hid from gunman in cafeteria: ‘Everybody was scared’

Arredondo, who took over as chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department in 2020, also told the news outlet he considered himself a front-line responder — not the person managing the broader response.

“I didn’t issue any orders,” he told The Tribune. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”

According to the Tribune, once Arredondo determined he couldn’t enter the classroom with the gunman inside he dialed police dispatch from his cellphone and asked for a tactical unit, snipers and an extrication tool to open the door.

“It’s not that someone said stand down,” Arredondo’s lawyer, George Hyde, told the Tribune. “It was, ‘Right now, we can’t get in until we get the tools. So we’re going to do what we can do to save lives.’ And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms.”

Related: Parents guard Texas elementary school following mass shooting: ‘We are here to protect’

Arredondo is a newly elected member of the Uvalde City Council. He won a seat on May 7 and was sworn in during a private ceremony on May 31, a week after the shooting. There was supposed to be a council meeting that day but it was canceled in light of the tragedy. When the council reconvened for a special emergency meeting a week later, on June 7, he was a no-show.

Arredondo also did not attend a meeting Tuesday night when the council unanimously declined to grant Arredondo request for a leave of absence from future council meetings.

The council can declare a member’s seat vacant if they miss three consecutive meetings without having first obtained a leave of absence, according to the city charter. Tuesday’s meeting would be the first of the three absences, the mayor said.

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