Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) Police Chief, who has been the subject of national scrutiny for his actions during the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School, was fired on Wednesday evening.
The UCISD school board voted unanimously for Arredondo’s termination exactly three months after the shooting. It convened behind closed doors to discuss Arredondo’s future with the school district, but also heard from four Uvalde residents in a town hall-style meeting, three of whom pleaded with the district to fire Arredondo.
The last testimony at Wednesday’s hearing was from 10-year-old Caitlyne Gonzalez. “If law enforcement’s job is to protect and serve, why didn’t they protect and serve my friends and teachers on May 24?” she said. “I have messages for Pete Arredondo and all the law enforcement that were there that day: turn in your badge and step down! You don’t deserve to wear one!”
George Hyde, a lawyer for Pete Arredondo, spoke up for his client in a 17-page press statement shared with TIME on Wednesday evening, minutes prior to the start of the board meeting.
Hyde said Arredondo “did everything he knew how” on May 24, the day a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. He added that Arredondo used the time waiting in the hallway—more than 70 minutes—to evacuate the school to prevent further violence and victimization, and said that Arredondo’s actions were consistent with active shooter training.
The document is the first time the public has heard from Arredondo or his lawyer since the two spoke to the Texas Tribune in early June.
It also criticizes the manner in which UCISD has conducted its investigation into Arredondo’s actions, and accuses the district of violating the police chief’s due process rights. Hyde places blame for the death toll on May 24 on a lack of preparedness by the school district along with inaction by other officers at the scene who did not come to a different conclusion than Arredondo did that day.
“Chief Arredondo asked me to express in this statement, his devout loyalty to the law enforcement profession and the law enforcement in his community,” Hyde said.
The document also refers to Arredondo’s “respect for the officers who worked with him at the School District, and those working for the Uvalde Police Department and every other officer and agency that responded to this incident, because he knows that they all wanted to get the bad guy and save lives. Sadly, no matter how we tried, we could not save them all.”
Hyde goes on: “Would the District have preferred a gunfight with officers in the hallway to break out again, and during that firefight, say 20 or 30 children across the hall are killed? And, what if some of them were killed by police officer fire? Chief Arredondo did the right thing.”
“It is important to note that Chief Arredondo, along with several other officers in the hallway, were completely unaware of any occupants in the room with the shooter until entry was made, the shooter was engaged, and the officers stopped him,” Hyde adds in bold font for emphasis.
Accountability for the Uvalde shooting
Arredondo, who has shouldered most of the blame for the May 24 shooting and has stayed out of the public eye since, was placed on unpaid administrative leave on June 22. The decision to terminate him comes after a July 17 report by members of the Texas legislature found that there were no “villains” over the course of its investigation, but “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making.”
On Wednesday evening, Daniel Myers, reportedly a pastor in the community, stood at the podium to address the school board and placed blame on them as well for the tragedy of May 24. “If it was one of your children, heads would be rolling right now. But because it’s not, you don’t care!” he said. “You are not going to sweep this under the rug…all of you are accountable.”
Hyde addressed public criticism of Arredondo, saying that because the shooter was killed on May 24, the grieving public will naturally look for another person to blame. “Certainly, and without question, the only person responsible for this tragedy is the shooter himself,” Hyde said. “He is the one person who could have saved everyone if he could have changed his mind and his plan to hurt the innocent and seek death from a Police Officer’s bullet.”
“Chief Arredondo respectfully asks those who feel as if they have lost everything, and those like him, who lost family members and friends in this tragedy, to take a moment of pause to contemplate and consider the actions they are taking and determine how, whatever goal one seeks, achieving that goal is not going to change anything for those grieving, except increase their numbers.”
Hyde reiterated an assertion made in the Tribune in June, that Arredondo “could not have served as the incident commander and did not attempt to take that role as he was at the front line of the incident.”
According to school shooting protocol, the first law enforcement official to arrive at the scene is normally considered the incident commander. Many, including Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, have said that Arredondo was the incident commander on the scene. Hyde, in his press release, said that the “incident” began when the gunman shot his grandmother off campus, and continued on to crash his car near Robb Elementary.
“Incident Command obligations…fell upon several law enforcement agencies before and during the horrific events inside the hallway, which had nothing to do with the district of Chief Arredondo,” Hyde said. “Director McCraw’s off-the-cuff comments, pointing the finger at Chief Arredondo after recognizing the faults of his own officers, was a smoke screen attempt to ‘blame the Mexican’! And, who was the most vulnerable? The School District Police because of the size of the department and the generally poor reputation school district police have in some communities.”
Ultimately, Hyde concludes, “Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits.”
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