Texas

Pete Arredondo placed on administrative leave from Uvalde school district

Arredondo has been criticized for his slow response time into the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.

Mikala Compton/VIA REUTERS

The Uvalde school district has placed its police chief on administrative leave. Texas law enforcement officials blame Pete Arredondo for the long wait to enter Robb Elementary during last month's school shooting.

Hal Harrell, the superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, announced Wednesday in a statement that he wanted to wait until an investigation into the shooting was complete before making personnel decisions.

However, he said, because he had not received any details, he decided to place Arredondo on administrative leave, effective Wednesday.

“Lieutenant Mike Hernandez will assume the duties of the UCISD Chief of Police," Harrell's statement explained. "We will continue to seek qualified candidates to join our police department as we prepare for the new school year."

Arredondo has been criticized for how long it took to respond to the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers in May. At a state Senate committee hearing this week, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said the gunman should have been stopped within three minutes of entering the building.

"The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 (for more than an hour) was the on scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children," McCraw said. "The officers had weapons; the children had none. The officers had body armor; the children had none. The officers had training. The subject had none."

McCraw placed the blame for the delay in confronting the shooter on Arredondo.

"I appear to be hyper-critical of the on-scene commander, and I don’t mean to be, but the facts are the facts. Mistakes were made. It should have never happened that way," McCraw said. "This set our profession back a decade is what it did."

In an interview with the Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he waited to confront the shooter for more than an hour because couldn't find a key to unlock the classroom door where he was holed up. Arredondo also told the Tribune he didn't consider himself the incident commander during the shooting.

A timeline compiled by DPS based on dispatch records and video footage from body cameras and security cameras confirmed that Arredondo repeatedly searched for a key.

But McCraw said that same evidence revealed that the classroom door could have been opened at any time because the door was never locked. He said video footage shows the shooter walking into the classroom, returning to the hallway, then walking back into the classroom.

"He didn’t have a key, and he couldn’t lock it from the inside. So, the door was unsecured," McCraw said. "We’ve gone back and checked in our interviews and (asked if) anybody touched the door and tried it? … And, of course, no one had."

McCraw said school employees were aware the classroom door was malfunctioning because at least one maintenance request to fix the lock had been submitted.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about why it took law enforcement more than an hour to confront the gunman at Robb Elementary. But Uvalde community members said they know enough to know it was mishandled.

Jesus Rizo Jr. told the school board Monday that at some point they're going to have to hold officials accountable.

"The children that didn’t make it, we don’t hear their voice anymore," he said. "But I promise you one thing: We will speak for them. You will hear their voice through us until accountability takes place."

Rizo said he didn't understand why Arredondo wasn't at least suspended until the investigation was completed.

Despite the criticism, Arredondo remained unavailable for public questions. Arredondo, who was recently sworn in to the city council, has not attended a city council meeting. If he misses one more, he could be removed from office.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

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