Uvalde school board fires Chief Pete Arredondo over shooting response, after he calls vote a “public lynching”
Uvalde school officials have faced mounting pressure to fire Arredondo, who received much of the blame for the delay in confronting the shooter during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary.
Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
UVALDE — The Uvalde school board agreed Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief broadly criticized for his response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in a vote that came shortly after he asked to be taken off of suspension and receive backpay.
Arredondo, widely blamed for law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting the gunman who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, made the request for reinstatement through his attorney, George E. Hyde. The meeting came exactly three months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at the school.
“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” Hyde said in a statement.
Arredondo didn’t attend the meeting, citing death threats made against him.
But about 100 people, including relatives of the shooting victims, showed up for the vote. Many chanted “coward” and “no justice, no peace.” Four people spoke during a public comment period before the seven-member board went into closed session to deliberate Arredondo’s employment, criticizing the decision to not discuss the matter in front of the public.
“I hope they do right by us,” Brett Cross, whose son Uziyah Garcia was killed in the massacre, told other attendees as trustees met behind closed doors.
In a statement the day after the meeting, Luis Fernandez, the Uvalde school board president, said firing Arredondo was “an important step in accountability and rebuilding our community’s trust in the district.”
“To our Uvalde community — we hear you, and we are committed to doing what needs to be done to maintain a learning environment that is safe, secure, and nurturing for all students,” Fernandez said.
For months, school officials faced intense public pressure to fire Arredondo, who was one of the first law enforcement officers to respond to the shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24. Nearly 400 local, state and federal law enforcement officers waited more than an hour to confront the 18-year-old gunman after he entered the school.
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended that Arredondo be fired “for good cause.” Hyde asked school officials to read a statement on Arredondo’s behalf at the meeting. They did not comply with the request.
As board members began discussing Arredondo, Felicha Lopez, whose son Xavier James Lopez was killed in the massacre, told people attending the meeting that the school board needed to “protect our kids” as she wiped tears from her face.
A Texas House committee report released in July said the responding officers lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to more quickly confront the gunman, who was shot and killed after a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team entered the classroom where most of the victims were shot.
In his statement Wednesday, Arredondo’s lawyer said that the school district violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to provide him notice of the complaints against him and conduct an investigation of his response to the mass shooting ahead of the termination hearing.
Arredondo’s lawyer said that he received an email from the district on July 19, recommending his termination based on his failure to establish himself as the incident commander during the shooting, but argued the letter should have been sent earlier and in a physical format.
Arredondo was listed in the district’s active-shooter plan as the commanding officer, but the consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that Arredondo did not assume that role and no one else took over for him, which resulted in a chaotic law enforcement response.
In a June 9 interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he did not think he was the incident commander on the scene. He said he never gave any order, instead only called for assistance. Arredondo did not have his police radio while he was inside Robb Elementary because he wanted both of his arms free to engage the shooter, he said.
ReferencePress statement from Pete Arredondo's attorney on Aug. 24, 2022.
Arredondo testified to the House committee that he believed the shooter was a “barricaded subject” instead of an “active shooter” after seeing an empty classroom next to the one where the shooter was hiding.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we now know this was a terrible, tragic mistake,” the House report stated.
Training for active-shooter scenarios directs law enforcement responders to prioritize the lives of innocent victims over those of officers. For a barricaded suspect, officers are not advised to rush in.
The report criticized Arredondo’s focus on trying to find a key to open the door to the room the shooter was in, which “consumed his attention and wasted precious time, delaying the breach of the classrooms.” The report said the classroom door didn’t lock properly and likely wasn’t locked as police waited to confront the shooter.
Hyde, Arredondo’s lawyer, asserted that his client should not have been assigned as the incident commander. He argued the Uvalde County sheriff should have been in charge of the incident given that this office was the only law enforcement agency that knew the gunman had shot his grandmother prior to traveling to Robb Elementary.
Vicente Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla Salazar was killed in the attack, told other meeting attendees Wednesday that, in addition to Arredondo, the Uvalde County sheriff should also be fired. He encouraged residents to be more civically engaged.
“We need to take Uvalde back for our people,” he said.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, also attended the meeting.
“It’s 90 days too long to do the right thing,” he said before the school board’s vote.
Gutierrez said other law enforcement agencies also failed in their response and urged residents to keep pushing for accountability.
“I encourage you to keep fighting,” Gutierrez said.
In the Wednesday letter to trustees, Arredondo’s legal team also directed blame back at the school district for allegedly not taking the police chief's security advice.
“If the school district would have prioritized Chief Arredondo’s request over a year prior to the incident, for key-card locks, better fencing, better training, and more equipment, [it] could have been different,” the letter said.
The Texas House committee’s report investigating the shooting also cited the school’s lack of preparedness for an armed intruder. Some Uvalde residents have also pushed for the termination or resignation of Harrell, the superintendent who recommended Arredondo’s termination. Trustees met behind closed doors on Monday to discuss complaints about Harrell but took no action on the matter.
Arredondo was elected to the Uvalde City Council a few weeks before the shooting but wasn’t sworn in until after the massacre. After missing several meetings, Arredondo stepped down from his District 3 seat to “minimize further distractions,” he said.
Jesse Rizo, whose niece Jackie Cazares was killed in the shooting, said Arredondo’s termination would help people begin healing. But he also said that other law enforcement officers and agencies should be held accountable.
Rizo also expressed shock that Arredondo asked to be reinstated from suspension with backpay.
“The audacity,” he said. “Who would come up with that? You didn’t have a car wreck into a stop sign. You had a loss of life. Twenty-one of them.”
Zach Despart contributed to this story.
The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.
Information about the authors
Quality journalism doesn't come free
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.Yes, I'll donate today