AUSTIN — Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police Chief Pete Arredondo, who has faced blistering criticism for his decision to keep officers at bay while a school shooter was in a classroom with children, was placed on administrative leave late Wednesday.
The Uvalde school district Superintendent Hal Harrell announced he placed Arredondo on leave as questions continue to swirl about the chief’s response to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” Harrell said in a statement. “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.”
BREAKING: UCISD Chief Pete Arrendondo has been placed on administrative leave from the school district.
— Jordan Elder (@JordanElderTV) June 22, 2022
Arredondo was the scene commander for the police response to the shooting. Since the shooting almost a month ago, troubling revelations about his decisions have emerged on a near daily basis and created frustration and trauma among a community that continues to grieve. On Tuesday, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and a mass shootings expert said Arredondo’s decisions cost lives.
On top of calls for him to resign from the school police force, Arredondo has also faced growing calls for him to resign from the Uvalde City Council. He won election to the position on May 7 and was sworn in to the council in secret.
At a Tuesday night meeting of the Uvalde City Council, Uvalde residents, including family members of slain victims, called for Arredondo to be removed from the board. They urged the council to disapprove Arredondo’s handwritten request for a leave from attending meetings to pave the way for his removal should he be absent from three consecutive meetings.
Jasmine Cazares, sister of Uvalde shooting victim Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, 9, and cousin of Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10, said Arredondo should be accountable for his actions, and that he does not deserve to be on the council. “Most of us agree the respectful thing to do is resign and step down,” she said.
“Was this oath upheld on May 24?” she continued. “It wasn’t and I want you all to know. Remember my face. I remember hers. Because we will be here at every city council meeting until something changes.”
The council unanimously voted against Arredondo’s request for a leave of absence. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said that Tuesday’s meeting marked the first of three required absences before the council could have him removed.
The lack of information from the agencies investigating the shooting, including the Justice Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Uvalde County district attorney’s office, led the state senator representing Uvalde to sue the DPS on Wednesday.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, accused DPS of a coverup and violating the Texas Public Information Act for not responding to an open records request his office filed on May 31.
“In the wake of this massacre, the State of Texas has completely failed to provide the community of Uvalde with truthful answers,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
In Uvalde, the city’s mayor bristled about how senators in Austin were getting access to details from DPS chief Steven McCraw that were not provided to him. McLaughlin referred to a Senate hearing on the shooting that continued Wednesday as the “Bozo the Clown show,” during Tuesday’s council meeting.
At the Capitol, the second day of Senate hearings continued with a focus on mental health.
The lead witnesses for the hearing were Dr. Laurel Williams and Dr. David Lakey with the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium. The consortium was created in the 2019 Texas school safety bill, Senate Bill 11.
Even as the consortium has been rapidly expanded in the three years since its inception, only about 40% of the state’s schools are covered by its mental health outreach programs that include free telemedicine sessions for students that might be experiencing mental health issues.
It has yet to reach Uvalde, a city of 15,217, that is experiencing many of the problems that smaller, rural communities face with access to mental health care. The consortium had yet to extend its services to Uvalde Independent School District, and Lakey said the amount of vacant positions at the local mental health authority is above average.
“It was substantial vacancies,” Lakey said of Uvalde. The average rate of vacancies, “statewide is about 30%, and they were above that. Not because they weren’t trying. They were trying to recruit people as best they could. It is just hard to recruit in some of these communities.”
Numerous suggestions were made to improve access to mental health services, including creating more fellowship programs throughout the state. Those programs bring new professionals to communities where they often stay.
“They’re picking fellowships based on where they think they want to live,” Williams said.
Gov. Greg Abbott focused on mental health in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, telling reporters that the state is in a mental health crisis and making addressing Texans’ mental health a main charge of committees in the Texas Senate and House that he requested to review the Uvalde shooting for policy recommendations.
Included in the governor’s charges was firearm safety. But Republicans, so far, have shown little support for any new firearm restrictions or even revisiting modest gun control proposals that came out of the Santa Fe High School shooting policy roundtable, such as red flag laws and closing loopholes in background checks.
The committee’s chair, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, ended the meeting hinting that the two-day hearing likely was the last time the Senate Uvalde committee will meet in public. He instructed its members, eight Republicans and three Democrats, to make policy suggestions that would be circulated among members until a final report is prepared.
In the Texas House, the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee meets jointly with the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety on Thursday to discuss mass shootings. They will take up the implementation of Senate Bill 11, firearm safety and law enforcement response to mass shootings Thursday.