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Exclusive: Texas DPS chief rejects claims of cover-up in Uvalde investigation and denies telling his captains ‘no one is losing their jobs’

<i>CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>
AFP via Getty Images

By Shimon Prokupecz, Matthew J. Friedman and Rachel Clarke, CNN

Texas’ top cop Col. Steven McCraw vowed Thursday to fire any member of his Department of Public Safety who did not do their job the day a gunman massacred 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

His pledge came after CNN tracked him down and confronted him with minutes of an internal meeting where he is recorded as telling highway patrol captains the opposite — that “no one is losing their jobs” over the inept law enforcement response.

He told CNN Thursday that “no one gets a pass,” reiterating a public promise from August 4 that there would be an internal review of the actions taken by all 91 DPS officers who responded to the school shooting.

But at the Texas Highway Patrol captains’ meeting less than two weeks later on August 15 and 16, the minutes obtained by CNN document him saying: “And oh by the way, no one is losing their jobs. Quite the contrary, all leaders in Region 3 did what they were supposed to do and have stepped up to meet the moment.”

While confirming much of the information attributed to him in the memorandum, McCraw said he was misquoted on the possibility of firings and his comments only referenced Victor Escalon, a DPS regional director.

“I reviewed his actions, and there’s nothing he could’ve done otherwise than what he did,” McCraw said. “I did a command decision, and Victor Escalon is not going to be fired, period.”

Some action has been taken already this week. Two DPS officers who were on scene at Robb Elementary were suspended with pay and referred for formal investigation by the inspector general, and three more were also to be investigated, the department said.

It’s not known what actions by the officers prompted the escalation; none has been identified publicly.

And McCraw repeated that he could not give out more information — despite the clamor of bereaved families, residents and their representatives — because the local district attorney had requested him not to. He has acknowledged that the criminal investigation could take years.

A coalition of news organizations including CNN is suing the DPS for records relating to the investigation that have been withheld from the media and public.

‘We’ll release everything’

In the exclusive interview McCraw said he would himself resign if his force was shown to have culpability for the botched response that left the shooter with dead and dying victims for 74 minutes while hundreds of officers from multiple forces arrived on scene and did not challenge him.

“First of all, there’s no cover-up. And the bottom line is as soon as we can, we’ll release everything,” he said, speaking to CNN before a meeting in Brownsville.

“When we get the ability to come talk to you, I’ll go line by line in terms of what trooper did what … what DPS officer. We’ll be entirely transparent,” McCraw said. “The public will have it — they’ll have excruciating details in terms of what we did, when we did it and those gaps.”

He pledged: “I’ll be the first to resign, I’ll gladly resign, I’ll tender my resignation to the governor if I think there is any culpability in the Department of Public Safety. Period.”

When asked if he would meet with the families who still have many questions, more than three months after the killings, McCraw said he would. But he added, “What I want is to have answers, right. I don’t have answers until the inspector general’s investigation is completed.”

He continued: “We’re not going to give anybody an opportunity to undermine the criminal investigation.”

In response to the statement that “no one is losing their jobs,” the families of several victims said in a joint response they were “disheartened and angry to hear” that McCraw believed his officers “stepped up to meet the moment.” The families said the fact that there has only been action against five DPS officers is a “slap in the face.”

The statement added the families have not met with the DPS to discuss the investigation, “primarily because the invitation has never been extended.”

“We have been calling for transparency and accountability since day one and the DPS Chief’s leaked statement does nothing to instill in us the trust that that will happen,” the statement added.

Trust eviscerated across the board

McCraw has not given any extensive interviews since the May 24 atrocity, though he became a public face of the law enforcement response in the days after — first at a table with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott when the efforts of officers were praised and then at a later news conference and Texas Senate testimony when he called the operation an “abject failure” and placed blame on school police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo.

Arredondo has since been fired by the school district. Arredondo has said he did not consider himself the incident commander at the school and a statement from his lawyer has called for him to be reinstated.

McCraw’s comments put him in the middle of the vastly changing narrative that laid him and his department open to criticism by the Uvalde mayor, families and others across the nation.

He told CNN that, with the benefit of hindsight, he might have done things differently but said he felt that the record needed to be corrected.

“I did a press conference on that Friday because I felt it was important, because people are under the impression … there was a brave, heroic law enforcement response [and it] was anything but that. It was an abject failure, plain and simple,” he said.

There shouldn’t have been any celebration that officers evacuated children, as that job could have been done by teachers, he said.

And he said that trust had been broken between his DPS officers and the local departments and agencies, whom they often assist in major incidents.

“The paradigm is gone,” he said, referring to how officers were told it was a matter of a barricaded subject talking to negotiators and not an armed man with victims.

“We can’t believe that until we’re absolutely sure,” he told CNN.

New procedures implemented

McCraw said his own officers were horrified when they realized what had happened in Uvalde on May 24.

“We’re out there doing perimeter duty under the impression [it’s a barricaded suspect] — I can’t tell you how sick they are to seeing all of a sudden children are being brought out that are dead,” he said.

“That is an impact that these troops will have to live with the rest of their lives because they were there. And I guarantee you if they had known, they’d have been in there.”

New procedures outlined to DPS by McCraw in a letter in July that was released publicly this week say officers should now “overcome any delay to neutralizing an attacker” at a school.

At the meeting with his captains in August, he said DPS should remain vigilant for mass attacks and asked them to share any ideas to improve top-down communication.

Earlier in the session, he discussed staffing issues and said DPS was requesting $466 million to start a “state of the art shoot house … resembling a school.” The total cost of the facility that would be used for training would be $1.4 billion, the minutes show.

While he has not spent time in Uvalde since the immediate aftermath, McCraw said he was affected too. “It was it was horrific, and anybody that’s been in that building or been involved in this in any way, shape or form will never be the same again.”

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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz and Matthew J. Friedman reported this story from Brownsville and Uvalde, Texas, and Rachel Clarke wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Rosa Flores, Eric Levenson and Andy Rose contributed to this story.

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