Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Opinion: Indictments aren't enough to account for law enforcement's 'epic' failures at Uvalde school shooting

Teachers and students followed active shooter survival steps.
Law officers did not. (Adobe Stock photo)
On May 24, 2022, Salvador Ramos, 18, entered Robb Elementary School with his AR-15-style rifle and started looking for victims. When shots rang out from his gun, teachers and students implemented their live shooter training. The Uvalde, Texas, police arrived at the scene within five minutes of the first 911 call, but they did not enter the building. In the 77 minutes it took for police to breach classroom 112, 19 children and two teachers were shot dead.

Last week a grand jury indicted former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo and former school police officer Adrian Gonzales on criminal charges for failing to protect the victims, but many Uvalde residents feel the indictments fail to hold the larger law enforcement community accountable, writes Neil Sturdevant in his commentary for the Uvalde Leader-News. "Perhaps to some, the 29 felony indictments for child endangerment/abandonment feel like justice served, but we think otherwise. Other officers, especially those in leadership positions who failed to intervene. . . should not walk away without consequences."

Arredondo served as the "de facto on-scene commander," as concluded in the 575-page Department of Justice report released last January. "The veteran officer bore direct responsibility to protect life on the Robb campus," Sturdevant explains. But his mistakes multiplied the victims. He treated the shooter as though he was a "barricaded suspect" instead of an active shooter in a school filled with young pupils. 

Gonzales was the "first on the scene and was able to quickly identify the classroom where the carnage was unfolding. . . and yet he did not approach the classroom," Sturdevant writes. "Gonzales had undergone active shooter training and taught the course earlier that year." But Arredondo and Gonzales weren't the only officers who abandoned students and teachers. Four other officers actively delayed intervention, which allowed more children to be shot or bleed to death while they waited for help.

"We wonder how evidence presented to grand jurors failed to illicit similar indictments for [those other] men," Sturdevant asks. "The same can be said for members of the Uvalde Police Department, elite Texas Rangers and state police who milled in the Robb hallway during the rampage killing. . . . Now two men stand alone as the sole source of blame for one of the most incompetent police responses in U.S. history."

"How does Uvalde district attorney Christina Michell look families in the eye and say this is a good deal? Mountains of evidence outlined a failure of epic proportions," Sturdevant writes. "The children and teachers who were carried, limped or dragged from their classrooms. . .were clearly abandoned by police. Now our criminal justice system has failed to right those grievous wrongs."

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