Uvalde school police chief fired 3 months after botched response to school shooting
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It has been three months since a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, entered Robb Elementary and killed 19 children and two teachers. The police response that day was widely criticized. And now Pete Arredondo, the school police chief who was in command on that day, has been fired. Last night, the Uvalde School Board voted unanimously to terminate his contract. Camille Phillips with Texas Public Radio joins us now. Camille, can you just start off by reminding us of Arredondo's role the day of the massacre?
CAMILLE PHILLIPS, BYLINE: Yes. Good morning. Arredondo was the chief of the Uvalde school district's tiny five-officer police force. Here in Texas, many school districts employ their own police department separate from the city's force. On the day - he was singled out shortly after the shooting by state officers as the commander who held officers back from confronting the gunman for more than an hour. State lawmakers investigating the shooting later said there were failures at all levels of law enforcement that day and that there was no clear leadership. But the Uvalde school district's active shooter plan, which was co-written by Arredondo, said the school police chief should have taken command.
MARTIN: So you were watching the school board meeting last night. Tell us what happened.
PHILLIPS: Well, Arredondo did not attend the hearing. Instead, his attorneys sent out a 17-page document just beforehand. It said Arredondo would not, quote, "participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching" - strong words there. It also said Arredondo thought his life was at risk if he attended because he'd received death threats. But families of the 21 victims of the school shooting didn't buy that argument. Brett Cross is the uncle of Uziyah Garcia. He said Arredondo should face the consequences of his actions.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BRETT CROSS: Nobody has threatened him. That's all I'm going to say on that.
PHILLIPS: Cross also said the hearing should be held in public.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CROSS: Our babies are dead. Our teachers are dead. Our parents are dead. The least y'all can do is show us the respect to do this in the public.
PHILLIPS: Unfortunately, the law requires termination hearings be private unless the employee waives that right. So the board went behind closed doors for about 90 minutes. When they came out, they voted to terminate Arredondo's contract, effective immediately. Then they adjourned without the board president even making a statement.
MARTIN: I mean, you said it. He was criticized from the start. So why did this take so long for the board to act?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, that's a good question. It's been three long months, especially for the families there in Uvalde. It took the superintendent a month to take any action at all. He put Arredondo on paid leave in June. At the time, he said he was waiting for investigations to be completed before he acted, but he went ahead and put him on leave because it wasn't clear when investigations would be completed. Then in July, after state lawmakers released an investigative report, the superintendent recommended Arredondo be fired and placed him on unpaid leave. So it was paid and then unpaid. But the district canceled the original termination hearing after the attorney said Arredondo was entitled to due process. So over the last month, they've just been going back and forth on a date for the new hearing.
MARTIN: Is this enough for the families?
PHILLIPS: Well, for families that have been calling for accountability, it's a big step in the right direction. But many would like to see more school officials and law enforcement officers held accountable. Hopefully, it's something that can help them feel a little bit of closure, but their grief is far from over. And the first day of school is coming up fast on September 6.
MARTIN: Texas Public Radio's Camille Phillips in San Antonio, thanks for your reporting.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.
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