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Families of Uvalde shooting victims sue Texas DPS officers for waiting to confront gunman

The legal action against 92 Texas Department of Public Safety officers focuses on their heavily criticized delay in breaching the classroom where 19 kids and two teachers were killed.
Posted: 12:09 PM, May 22, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-22 13:09:52-04
Authorities gather outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde after a gunman entered and killed 19 students and two teachers on May 24, 2022.

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UVALDE, Texas (Texas Tribune) — Relatives of 17 children killed and two kids injured in Texas’ deadliest school shooting are suing Texas Department of Public Safety officers who were among hundreds of law enforcement that waited 77 minutes to confront the gunman at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary, lawyers announced Wednesday.

“Nearly 100 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety have yet to face a shred of accountability for cowering in fear while my daughter and nephew bled to death in their classroom,” Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed, said in a statement.

The legal action against 92 DPS officers comes days before the two-year anniversary of the shooting in which an 18-year-old used an AR-15 to kill 19 students and two teachers in two adjoining fourth-grade classrooms.

Relatives of most of those students killed and two who were injured also announced Wednesday that they are suing Mandy Gutierrez, who was the principal at Robb at the time, and Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who was the school district police chief, for their “inaction” that day.

In addition to the lawsuit, the families announced the city of Uvalde will pay $2 million to the families as part of a separate settlement that also includes stipulations meant to prevent another tragedy like the 2022 shooting.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from scores of local, state and federal agencies have been heavily criticized for waiting more than an hour to confront the gunman, which conflicted with training that instructs them to confront a shooter if there is reason to believe someone is hurt. The U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the massacre concluded that the delay likely caused some deaths and that failures in leadership and training contributed to law enforcement’s ineffective response.

“While there is nothing normal about living in a society where kids can easily get access to a military rifle, the reality is that these officers were so terrified that they chose to abandon their burden to the Uvalde community: put themselves between a very dangerous person and a child, and the families must hold them accountable,” said Josh Koskoff, attorney for the families.

Koskoff has also represented the families of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

In the settlement with the city of Uvalde that families’ lawyers announced Wednesday, local officials will implement a new “fitness for duty” standard for Uvalde police officers, to be developed in coordination with the Justice Department and provide enhanced training for current and future police officers.

City officials will also establish May 24 as an annual day of remembrance and work with victims’ families to design a permanent memorial at the city plaza, among other things.

“For two long years, we have languished in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day. This settlement reflects a first good faith effort, particularly by the City of Uvalde, to begin rebuilding trust in the systems that failed to protect us,” Luevanos said.

An investigation by a Texas House committee found “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved in the response.

That panel’s 77-page report revealed that a total of 376 law enforcement officers descended upon the school in an uncoordinated manner, disregarding their own active shooter training.

The majority of the responders were federal and state law enforcement — 149 U.S. Border Patrol and 91 state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” The other responders included 25 Uvalde police officers, 16 sheriff’s deputies, and five police officers with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District as well as neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

The myriad of law enforcement mistakes stemmed from an absence of leadership and effective communications, according to the report.

A trove of recorded investigative interviews and body camera footage obtained by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and FRONTLINE showed that officers failed to set up a clear command structure and spread incorrect information that caused them to treat the shooter as a barricaded suspect and not an active threat — even as children and teachers inside the classrooms called 911 pleading for help. No single officer engaged the shooter for more than an hour despite training that says they should do so as quickly as possible if anyone is hurt.

Following intense criticism of their response, several law enforcement officers resigned or were fired in the months following the shooting. Arredondo, the school district police chief at the time, was fired in August 2022.

About 72% of the state and local officials who arrived at Robb Elementary before the gunman was killed received some form of active shooter training throughout their law enforcement careers. But of those who received training, most had taken it only once. After the shooting, Texas mandated that officers receive 16 hours of active shooter training every two years.

DPS is fighting the release of its investigation into the shooting. A Uvalde County grand jury is currently considering potential criminal charges against responding officers.

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