The Uvalde school board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to immediately terminate the contract of district police chief Pete Arredondo, three months after a teenaged gunman took the lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez will remain interim police chief, the school district’s board of trustees said in a statement on Thursday.
The school board made its decision in a closed session meeting lasting nearly an hour-and-a-half. Several members of the audience applauded after the decision was announced. One person was heard repeatedly shouting: “We’re not done.”
Arredondo didn’t attend the meeting. His attorney instead issued a 17-page press statement that said the district wasn’t following legal procedure as it moved to fire Arredondo and that the police chief was concerned about his safety.
In the statement, which came less than an hour before the meeting started, Arredondo’s attorney George Hyde argued that a letter from the district suspending him without pay does not count as an official “complaint” required by law to consider termination.
“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,” the statement concludes.
Hyde said due to death threats, Arredondo didn’t feel the board meeting would be safe.
The meeting began with comments from members of the public, some of whom called for Arredondo, who had been on unpaid leave, and other officers who responded to turn in their badges.
The board members said Texas law requires for the hearing on the chief’s employment status to be held in closed session. Upon returning from that private meeting, a board member read a motion to terminate Arredondo’s non-certified contract immediately and another to ratify his leave status.
Arredondo has come under intense public scrutiny over the law enforcement response to the May 24 massacre, America’s deadliest school shooting since 2012.
Uvalde schools superintendent Hal Harrell had recommended that Arredondo be fired. State officials identified Arredondo as the on-scene police commander, though he has said he did not consider himself in charge.
The attacker remained in two adjoined classrooms for more than an hour before officers entered the rooms and killed him, authorities say. The delay contradicted widely taught protocol for active shooter situations that call for police to immediately stop the threat and came even as children inside repeatedly called 911 and begged for help.
In his statement for Arredondo, Hyde says the chief was not notified between June 22 and July 19 of a school district investigation and was not asked to participate or give a statement.
“The district cannot withhold its information for months, present only that which they find supports the Superintendent, and then disclose it without a reasonable opportunity to review it, and the opportunity to discover impeachment or optional completeness evidence.”
Wednesday’s meeting comes after heated school board sessions in which parents have demanded that Arredondo and others in the school system be fired, and after several instances in which officials have criticized the police response to the shooting in hearings and a Texas House investigative report.
Report described ‘lackadaisical approach’ by law enforcement
In a hearing before the Texas Senate on June 21, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety called the police response an “abject failure.” The director, Col. Steven McCraw, placed blame for the failure on Arredondo. The on-scene commander, McCraw said, was “the only thing” stopping officers from entering the classrooms to engage the gunman.
In a preliminary report released July 17, the Texas House panel placed blame more broadly, outlining a series of failures by multiple law enforcement agencies.
The 77-page report described “an overall lackadaisical approach” by the 376 local, state and federal law enforcement officers who responded and were at the school.
“There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives,” the report says. “Instead, we found systemic failures and egregious poor decision making.”
The report also notes others could have assumed command. Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training “teaches that any law enforcement officer can assume command, that somebody must assume command, and that an incident commander can transfer responsibility as an incident develops,” it says.
“That did not happen at Robb Elementary, and the lack of effective incident command is a major factor that caused other vital measures to be left undone,” according to the report.
In that report, Arredondo said his approach was “responding as a police officer,” and that he therefore “didn’t title myself.”
However, at least one of the responding officers expressed the belief that Arredondo was leading the law enforcement response inside the school, telling others that the “chief is in charge,” according to a timeline from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Hyde said in Wednesday’s media statement that Arredondo was “brave, led other officers in saving lives, and took all reasonable actions to prevent further injuries or loss of life, as the Active Shooter protocol demands.”
The attorney repeated Arredondo’s claim he was just a responding officer and said that because the gunman’s criminal actions began off campus, in another jurisdiction, the obligation for an incident commander fell on other law enforcement agencies.
He also wrote that the chief warned the district for more than a year about the school district’s vulnerability to a gunman.
In the wake of sharp criticism following the mass shooting, Uvalde school district Superintendent Hal Harrell placed Arredondo – who has been the school district police chief since March 2020 – on leave from his position as school police chief on June 22.
‘Too little, too late’
At a school board meeting July 18 – a day after the House report was released – an uncle of one of the slain children angrily asked why Arredondo still was employed.
“Why the hell does he still have a job with y’all?” Brett Cross, an uncle of 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, asked the board, adding he wanted members to resign if Arredondo weren’t fired by the next day. “Because you all do not give a damn about our children or us. Stand with us or against us, because we ain’t going nowhere.”
Firing Arredondo now, Cross told CNN later that week, would be “too little, too late.” Cross, who had been raising Uziyah as his son before the child was killed in the shooting, and some others in the community have been calling for the superintendent, the board and the school police department to be replaced.
At a meeting Monday night, the school board met to review parents’ complaints calling for the superintendent’s removal. The board passed a motion that, in part, requires the superintendent to provide to the board names or organizations that could review the district’s administrative practices about accountability.
Some community members in attendance – including Cross – expressed anger at the end of the meeting, with some saying that it took three hours to not accomplish anything.
“Come out Wednesday,” Cross said as he and others left Monday’s meeting. “I’m f**king tired of this bulls**t.”
CNN’s Andy Rose, Eric Levenson, Rosa Flores, Matthew J. Friedman, Christina Maxouris, Shimon Prokupecz and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.