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Uvalde city report clears local officers of wrongdoing, outraging families

By Alejandro Serrano, The Texas Tribune

March 7, 2024

"Uvalde city report clears local officers of wrongdoing, outraging families" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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UVALDE — A city-commissioned independent review of Uvalde police’s response to the Robb Elementary School shooting cleared several of its local officers of wrongdoing, infuriating parents of the 19 children killed in the massacre and at least two city council members who rebuked the report after it was released Thursday.

City officials hired private investigator Jesse Prado, a retired Austin police detective, to conduct the review into the response from the city’s police department to the May 24, 2022 mass shooting that also resulted in the deaths of two teachers and injured 17 others.

The findings of the report were presented in a question-and-response format with Prado at a city council meeting, but the actual report was not immediately released to the public until Thursday evening. Prado said the review identified training, communication and leadership lapses, but he also commended officers and characterized one’s actions as in “good faith” — contradicting findings of previous audits by state and federal officials.

Those reviews have illustrated a catastrophic law enforcement failure in which children remained trapped with the gunman for more than an hour as nearly 400 law enforcement officers arrived at the school only to encounter a chaotic scene without leadership.

Several people walked out of the impromptu council chambers roughly 40 minutes in when Prado said one of the issues that police encountered was crowd control. Some families tried to breach police tape to run into the school and try rescuing their children, some of whom ultimately died while others had called their parents and 911 pleading for help.

Following the presentation and right before the public hearing, Prado left.

Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was among the killed children, slammed a podium in the civic center and in between tears demanded that Prado return to the meeting. A crowd then began chanting, “Bring him back!” One person shouted, “Coward.”

Prado returned five minutes later and sat with an expressionless face, underneath a big white cowboy hat he did not once remove, for the following hour as relatives of those killed castigated him and dismissed his audit as “bullshit,” “a joke” and disrespectful.

“They chose their lives over the lives of children and teachers, and there’s no policy change [that] will eliminate their fear,” Mata-Rubio said in calling for the firing of three officers who remain on the city’s police force.

Uvalde city officials said they plan to give the report to families first. Several council members on the six-member board said they had not reviewed it prior to the meeting.

The private investigator’s report arrived almost two months after the U.S. Justice Department released its analysis of law enforcement’s bungled response, in which the federal government found “cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy and training” by responding police.

Prado declined to comment after the meeting, telling reporters who followed him to his pick-up truck that he was done with the report but not with his job and still may have to answer questions. He did not acknowledge Felicha Martinez, whose son Xavier was killed in the shooting and who had also followed Prado to the parking lot.

“I wanted to ask him, is that how he really feels that the officers did — did they do right?,” Martinez said after Prado drove away.

“How does he sleep at night knowing that this is what he had to say? And he hurt all of us today — just opened wounds, after wounds, after wounds. I wanted to ask him if that’s really how he felt.”

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