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Damning Report, New Footage Show Chaos of Uvalde Response

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Leticia Cobarrubia, aunt of shooting victims Jackie Cazares and Annabell Roidriguez, wipes away tears as she listens to the Texas House investigative committee release its full report on the shootings at Robb Elementary School, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — A damning report and hours of body camera footage further laid bare the chaotic response to a mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school, where hundreds of law enforcement officers massed but then waited to confront the gunman even after a child trapped with the shooter called 911.

The findings of an investigative committee released Sunday were the first to criticize both state and federal law enforcement, and not just local authorities in the South Texas city for the bewildering inaction by heavily armed officers as a gunman fired inside two adjoining fourth-grade classrooms at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

Footage from city police officers’ body cameras made public hours later only further emphasized the failures — and fueled the anger and frustration of relatives of the victims.

“It’s disgusting. Disgusting,” said Michael Brown, whose 9-year-old son was in the school’s cafeteria on the day of the shooting and survived. “They’re cowards.”

Nearly 400 law enforcement officials rushed to the school, but “egregiously poor decision making” resulted in more than an hour of chaos before the gunman was finally confronted and killed, according to the report written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives.

Together, the report and more than three hours of newly released body camera footage from the May 24 tragedy amounted to the fullest account to date of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

“At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report said.

The gunman fired approximately 142 rounds inside the building — and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots came before any officer entered, according to the report, which laid out numerous failures. Among them:

— No one assumed command despite scores of officers being on the scene.

— The commander of a Border Patrol tactical team waited for a bulletproof shield and working master key for a door to the classrooms that may have not even been needed, before entering.

— A Uvalde Police Department officer said he heard about 911 calls that had come from inside the rooms, and that his understanding was the officers on one side of the building knew there were victims trapped inside. Still, no one tried to breach the classroom.

The committee didn’t “receive medical evidence” to show that police storming the classrooms sooner would have saved lives, but it concluded that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue.”

The findings had at least one immediate effect: Lt. Mariano Pargas, a Uvalde Police Department officer who was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre, was placed on administrative leave.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said an investigation would be launched to determine whether Pargas should have taken command of the scene. He also disclosed for the first time that some officers had left the force since the shooting but did not provide an exact number, saying it was as many as three.

Hours after the report was released, Uvalde officials separately made public for the first time hours of body camera footage from the city’s police officers who responded to the attack. It included video of several officers reacting to word from a dispatcher, roughly 30 minutes after the shooting began, that a child in the room had called 911.

“The room is full of victims. Child 911 call,” an officer said.

Other body camera video from Uvalde Staff Sgt. Eduardo Canales, the head of the city’s SWAT team, showed the officer approaching the classrooms when gunfire rang out at 11:37 a.m.

A minute later, Canales said: “Dude, we’ve got to get in there. We’ve got to get in there, he just keeps shooting. We’ve got to get in there.” Another officer could be heard saying “DPS is sending their people.”

It was 72 minutes later, at 12:50 p.m., when officers finally breached the classrooms and kill the shooter.

Calls for police accountability have grown in Uvalde since the shooting.

“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They’ve got no business wearing a badge. None of them do,” Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, who was among those killed, said Sunday.

Anger flashed in Uvalde even over how the report was rolled out: Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting, shouted at the three-member Texas House committee as they left a news conference after the findings were released.

Committee members had invited families of the victims to discuss the report privately, but Quintanilla-Taylor said the committee should have taken questions from the community, not just the media.

“I’m pissed. They need to come back and give us their undivided attention,” she said later. “These leaders are not leaders,” she said.

According to the report, 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school. The overwhelming majority of those who responded were federal and state law enforcement. That included nearly 150 U.S. Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officials.

“Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation,” the report said. “There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.”

The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcement responders who rushed to the school were better trained and equipped than the school district police — which the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state police force, previously faulted for not going into the room sooner.

Investigators said it was not their job to determine whether officers should be held accountable, saying that decisions rested with each law enforcement agency. Prior to Sunday, only one of the hundreds of officers on the scene — Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief — was known to have been on leave.

“Everyone who came on the scene talked about this being chaotic,” said Texas state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican who led the investigation.

Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety and U.S. Border Patrol did not immediately return requests for comment Sunday.

The report followed weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people, including witnesses and law enforcement who were on the scene of the shooting.

No single officer has received as much scrutiny since the shooting as Arredondo, who also resigned from his newly appointed seat on the City Council after the shooting. Arredondo told the committee he treated the shooter as a “barricaded subject,” according to the report, and defended never treating the scene as an active-shooter situation because he did not have visual contact with the gunman.

Arredondo also tried to find a key for the classrooms, but no one ever checked to see if the doors were locked, according to the report.

The report criticized as “lackadaisical” the approach of the hundreds of officers who surrounded the school and said that they should have recognized that Arredondo remaining in the school without reliable communication was “inconsistent” with him being the scene commander. The report concluded that some officers waited because they relied on bad information while others “had enough information to know better.”

The report was the result of one of several investigations into the shooting, including one led by the Justice Department.

Brown, the father of the 9-year-old who was in the cafeteria the day of the shooting, came to the committee’s news conference Sunday carrying signs saying, “We Want Accountability” and “Prosecute Pete Arredondo.”

Brown said he has not yet read the report but already knew enough to say that police “have blood on their hands.”

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Black Lives

Former Louisville Cop Pleads Guilty in Breonna Taylor Case

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FILE - This undated file photo provided by Taylor family attorney Sam Aguiar shows Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Ky., apartment in March 2020. A former Louisville police detective who helped write the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Taylor's apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. (Courtesy of Taylor Family attorney Sam Aguiar via AP, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A former Louisville police detective who helped falsify the warrant that led to the deadly police raid at Breonna Taylor’s apartment has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

Federal investigators said Kelly Goodlett added a false line to the warrant and later conspired with another detective to create a cover story when Taylor’s March 13, 2020, shooting death by police began gaining national attention.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot to death by officers who knocked down her door while executing a drug search warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that hit one of the officers as they came through the door and they returned fire, striking Taylor multiple times.

Goodlett, 35, appeared in a federal courtroom in Louisville on Tuesday afternoon and admitted to conspiring with another Louisville police officer to falsify the warrant. Goodlett briefly answered several questions from federal judge Rebecca Jennings Grady.

Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, was in the courtroom Tuesday but did not speak after the proceedings.

Three former Louisville officers were indicted on criminal civil rights charges earlier this month by a federal grand jury. Goodlett was not indicted, but charged in a federal information filing, which likely means the former detective is cooperating with investigators.

Goodlett will be sentenced Nov. 22. Grady said there may be “extenuating circumstances” that may move the court to push back the sentencing date. Part of the plea hearing was also kept under seal and was not discussed in open court Tuesday. She faces up to five years in prison for the conviction.

She resigned from the department Aug. 5, a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced new federal charges in the Taylor case.

Former officers Joshua Jaynes and Kyle Meany were indicted on charges related to the warrant used to search Taylor’s home. A third former officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with using excessive force when he retreated from Taylor’s door, turned a corner and fired 10 shots into the side of her two-bedroom apartment. He was acquitted by a jury on similar state charges earlier this year. Jaynes, Meany and Hankison have all been fired.

The three former officers face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the civil rights charges.

Federal prosecutors said in court records that Jaynes, who drew up the Taylor warrant, had claimed to Goodlett days before the warrant was served that he had “verified” from a postal inspector that a suspected drug dealer was receiving packages at Taylor’s apartment. But Goodlett knew this was false and told Jaynes the warrant did not yet have enough information connecting Taylor to criminal activity, prosecutors said. She added a paragraph saying the suspected drug dealer, Jamarcus Glover, was using Taylor’s apartment as his current address, according to the court records.

Two months later, when the Taylor shooting was attracting national headlines, the postal inspector told a media outlet he had not verified packages for Glover were going to Taylor’s apartment. Jaynes and Goodlett then met in Jaynes’ garage to “get on the same page” before Jaynes talked to investigators about the Taylor warrant, court records said.

They decided to say Sgt. John Mattingly, who is identified in the court records as J.M., told them Glover was receiving packages at Taylor’s home, according to prosecutors. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid at Taylor’s apartment.

Meany, who signed off on the Taylor warrant and was still a Louisville police sergeant when he was indicted on Aug. 4, was fired by Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields on Friday.

Shields said in a statement that Meany has not yet had his case heard by a jury, but “he is facing multiple federal charges after a lengthy investigation by the DOJ” and should not “expect continued employment under such conditions.”

Hankison was the only officer charged who was on the scene the night of the killing.

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Crime

Lawyer’s Group Text Causes 2nd Florida Murder Case Mistrial

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A prosecutor in a murder case complained about a judge’s ruling in a group text message that included the judge, resulting in a second mistrial for a man charged with killing his girlfriend’s young son. Now the defense wants the case dismissed altogether.

Broward County Judge Peter Holden refused to allow a 911 call as evidence against Corey Gorden, who is accused of killing the 3-year-old in 2015 and returning him in his car seat to his mother as if nothing had happened.

Assistant State Attorney Katya Palmiotto then sent a text complaining about the ruling to a group of current and former homicide prosecutors, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.

“Holden just sustained their objection and wouldn’t let us put the 911 call in as hearsay,” she wrote.

As a former homicide prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2018, the judge remained in the group chat. And lawyers are prohibited in criminal cases from talking with the judge if the defendant’s lawyers are not present.

Defense lawyer Michael Gottlieb filed for mistrial on Wednesday, saying in a summary that the 15-year veteran prosecutor had been overheard saying she messed up “real bad.”

“The judge was visibly upset and appeared angry,” Gottlieb wrote.

Holden grilled the prosecutor about the text message before declaring a mistrial.

In May, another judge declared a mistrial when prosecutors asked a witness about Gorden’s refusal to give a statement. Criminal trial jurors are not permitted to consider the defendants silence as proof of guilt.

Holden has not set a hearing on Gottlieb’s motion to dismiss the case.

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Crime

Uvalde Schools Look to Fire Chief Arredondo After Shooting

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FILE - Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, third from left, stands during a news conference outside of the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas Thursday, May 26, 2022. The district’s superintendent said Wednesday, June 22 that Arredondo has been put on leave following allegations that he erred in his response to a mass shooting at an elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Facing massive public pressure, Uvalde’s top school official has recommended the firing of the school district police chief who was central to the botched law enforcement response to the elementary school shooting nearly two months ago that killed two teachers and 19 students.

The South Texas city’s school board announced Wednesday that it will consider firing Chief Pete Arredondo at a special meeting Saturday. Arredondo has been accused by state officials of making several critical mistakes during the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

School officials have previously resisted calls to fire Arredondo. The announcement comes two days after a meeting where the school board members were lambasted for more than three hours by members of the public, who accused them of not implementing basic security at Robb, of not being transparent about what happened and of failing to hold Arredondo to account for his actions.

 

 

Confronted with parents’ vociferous demands to fire Arredondo and warnings that his job would be next, Superintendent Hal Harrell said Monday that the police chief was a contract employee who could not be fired at will. The agenda for Saturday’s meeting includes the board discussing the potential firing with its lawyer.

Arredondo, who has been on leave from the district since June 22, has faced blistering criticism since the massacre, most notably for not ordering officers to immediately breach the classroom where an 18-year-old gunman carried out the attack. If fired, Arredondo would become the first officer ousted from his job following the deadliest Texas school shooting in history.

 

 

Although nearly 400 officers from various agencies were involved in the police response that took more than an hour to confront and kill the shooter, Arredondo is one of only two known to have faced discipline. His attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move to potentially fire the chief follows the release of a damning 80-page report by a Texas House committee that blamed all levels of law enforcement for a slow and chaotic response. The report found that 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school, with more than half coming from state and federal agencies, but that they “failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”

According to the committee, Arredondo told lawmakers he didn’t consider himself the on-scene commander in charge and that his priority was to protect children in other classrooms. The committee report called that decision a “terrible, tragic mistake.”

Body camera footage released by the Uvalde officials shows Arredondo in the hallway trying multiple sets of keys on other classroom doors, but not the one where the massacre took place. The classroom door could not be locked from the inside, but there is no indication officers tried to open the door while the gunman was inside.

“Our thought was: ‘If he comes out, you know, you eliminate the threat,’ correct?” Arredondo told the committee, according to the report. “And just the thought of other children being in other classrooms, my thought was: ‘We can’t let him come back out. If he comes back out, we take him out, or we eliminate the threat.’”

Arredondo, 50, grew up in Uvalde and spent much of his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in the city. He took the head police job at the school district in 2020 and was sworn in as a member of the City Council in a closed-door ceremony May 31. He resigned from his council seat July 2.

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