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Uvalde school district places police Chief Pete Arredondo on administrative leave, superintendent announces

<i>Eric Gay/AP</i><br/>Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin
Eric Gay/AP
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin

By Eric Levenson, Rosa Flores, Rebekah Riess and Travis Caldwell, CNN

Uvalde school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo was placed on leave Wednesday, according to a news release from Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell.

“Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date,” Harrell wrote in the announcement to the media.

Lt. Mike Hernandez is assuming the duties of the UCISD Chief of Police, Harrell said.

The superintendent wrote that he had intended to wait for an investigation to be finished before making personnel decisions.

“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” he wrote.

Arredondo testified Tuesday behind closed doors in Austin to a Texas House committee seeking answers to what happened May 24 when 21 people were gunned down at an elementary school, but has not spoken publicly about his decision-making on the day of the shooting.

The school district’s announcement comes a day after the Uvalde City Council, of which Arredondo is a new member, voted to deny his request for a leave of absence.

Harrell is not alone in appearing to be frustrated by the lack of information from investigators.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday slammed the Texas Department of Public Security (DPS) for its lack of transparency and accused its director, Col. Steven McCraw, of intentionally minimizing his agency’s mistakes in the weeks following the massacre at Robb Elementary School.

“Col. McCraw has continued to, whether you want to call it lie, leak, mislead or misstate, information in order to distance his own troopers and Rangers from the response. Every briefing he leaves out the number of his own officers and Rangers that were on-scene that day,” McLaughlin told residents at a city council meeting Tuesday.

“Col. McCraw has an agenda and it is not to present a full report on what happened and give factual answers on what happened to this community,” he added.

In addition, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat representing the County of Uvalde, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against DPS, arguing the agency violated the Texas Public Information Act when his request for information on the shooting was ignored.

“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” the lawsuit states.

The criticisms and lawsuit come shortly after McCraw testified before a Texas Senate committee that the response from law enforcement was an “abject failure” and violated commonly taught protocol to stop the shooter as quickly as possible.

The DPS director accused Arredondo, who McCraw and others have identified as the on-scene commander, of ordering police to wait in a nearby hallway for unnecessary equipment and keys to a door that was not even locked.

“Three minutes after the subject entered the West building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said. “The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”

The finger-pointing adds further tension to a tragedy that has become a case study in bad policing and worse communication. Nearly a month has passed since an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at the school. He remained inside the classrooms from 11:33 a.m. until 12:50 p.m. — when police finally breached the door and killed him, according to a DPS timeline.

Yet authorities have repeatedly changed their account of key facts about what happened inside the rooms and what police did in response during those 77 minutes.

McLaughlin said that the repeated misstatements and blame-shifting from Texas authorities was dividing the community and frustrating grieving families

“What matters to Uvalde is that these brokenhearted families and this grieving community get a full investigation and an accurate report of what happened that day,” he said. “The petty infighting, the clickbait headlines and the politically motivated scapegoating is not helping anyone.”

CNN has reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the district attorney’s office, the chair of the Texas House investigating committee and the San Antonio office of the FBI for further comment.

State senator’s lawsuit challenges DPS secrecy

In his lawsuit filed Wednesday, Gutierrez challenged the DPS’s decisions to withhold information from the public, including police bodycam footage, 911 audio and ballistics reports.

“DPS has violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government by failing to provide public documents that are presumed to be public within a reasonable time,” the lawsuit states.

In a section titled “The Cover-Up,” the lawsuit notes that DPS has used an exception to the law to keep records private.

“These government agencies have used the ‘on going law enforcement exception’ to the Texas open records law to disallow access to information that might shed light on the response to the school shooting,” the lawsuit states.

Gutierrez is asking the Travis County District Court to rule that DPS immediately provide the documents in his records request.

District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee issued a statement two weeks ago stating the shooting was being investigated by the FBI and Texas Rangers and that “any release of records to that incident at this time would interfere with said ongoing investigation and would impede a thorough and complete investigation.”

Still, Kelley Shannon, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, urged transparency in a statement Wednesday.

“It is important to note that the Texas Public Information Act does not require law enforcement investigators to withhold information from the public about a crime,” Shannon said. “The law enforcement exception to release is discretionary. In fact, many police and prosecutors across Texas routinely release investigative information to the public when they feel the need to — whether to help catch a wanted suspect, to seek more tips about a crime or to showcase the positive performance of police.”

Mayor says he’s frustrated by lack of transparency

At the city council meeting, McLaughlin noted that officers from at least eight law enforcement agencies were in the hallway outside the classrooms on the day of the shooting. McLaughlin said he has no desire to pursue elected office again and is “not covering up for anybody,” saying all responding agencies should be held accountable.

He said the leaking of certain bits of information over the past few weeks “continues to create chaos in our community and keeps the whole truth from coming out.”

He particularly took aim at what he said was a false report that local police weren’t cooperating with investigators, and he expressed his frustration with being left in the dark.

“I’m just as frustrated — maybe not as frustrated as the families that have lost their loved ones — but it pisses me off that I can’t give you answers or can’t get you answers,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said he was meant to receive a daily briefing from authorities since its onset but none has been provided.

“The gloves are off. As we know it, we will share it. We are not going to hold back anymore,” he said.

McLaughlin has criticized the lack of transparency from investigators before, saying at a city council meeting on June 7, “We had some missteps with the DPS releasing some facts or different things, but that wasn’t the Rangers who were leading the investigation. I’m not blaming anybody,” he said.

“We were told one thing one day, and the next day the narrative changed. You were told for a week that a teacher propped the door open with a rock, and at the end of the week that story was gone too. That’s the missteps I’m talking about,” he added.

The city council meeting also took issue with Arredondo’s absence from the public eye.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Andy Rose, Christina Maxouris, Amanda Musa, Rosalina Nieves, Amy Simonson and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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