Indictment Accuses Former Uvalde Schools Police Chief of Delays while Shooter was ‘Hunting’ Children

AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File
Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, third from left, stands during a news conference outside of the Robb Elementary school on May 26, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The police chief for schools in Uvalde, Texas, failed to identify an active shooting, did not follow his training and made critical decisions that slowed the law enforcement response to stop a gunman who was “hunting” victims and ultimately killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Pete Arredondo was arrested and briefly booked into the Uvalde County jail before being released Thursday night on 10 state jail felony counts of abandoning or endangering a child in the May 24, 2022, attack that killed 19 children and two teachers.

Former school officer Adrian Gonzales, one of the first officers to enter the building after the shooting began, was indicted on 29 similar charges that accuse him of abandoning his training and not confronting the shooter, even after hearing gunshots as he stood in a hallway. Gonzales was booked into jail briefly Friday and released on bond.

Arredondo, 52, and Gonzales, 51, are the first officers to be criminally charged for the police response to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, and the indictments from a Uvalde County grand jury follow two years of calls from some families for such action. Some victims’ relatives said Friday that while they are happy Arredondo and Gonzales were indicted, they want more officers to be charged.

“They decided to indict only two. That’s hard for me to accept,” said Jesse Rizo, whose niece Jacklyn Cazares was among the students killed.

In a statement, an attorney for Gonzales called the charges against law enforcement “unprecedented in the state of Texas.”

“Mr. Gonzales’ position is he did not violate school district policy or state law,” said Nico LaHood, the former district attorney for Bexar County, which includes San Antonio.

Arredondo does not have a listed phone number and the court clerk had no record of an attorney for him.

The first U.S. law enforcement officer ever tried for allegedly failing to act during an on-campus shooting was a sheriff’s deputy in Florida who didn’t go into the classroom building and confront the perpetrator of the 2018 Parkland massacre. The deputy was acquitted of felony neglect last year. A lawsuit by the victims’ families and survivors is pending.

The indictment against Arredondo, who was the on-site commander at the Uvalde shooting, accused the chief of delaying the police response despite hearing gunshots and being notified that injured children were in the classrooms and that a teacher had been shot. Arredondo called for a SWAT team, ordered the initial responding officers to leave the building, and attempted to negotiate with the 18-year-old gunman, the indictment said.

“After being advised that a child or children were injured in a class at Robb Elementary School (Arredondo) failed to identify the incident as an active shooter incident and failed to respond as trained to an active shooter incident and instead directed law enforcement officers to evacuate the wing before confronting the shooter thereby delaying the response by law enforcement officers to an active shooter who was hunting and shooting a child or children,” the indictment said.

The actions and inactions by both Arredondo and Gonzales amounted to “criminal negligence,” the indictments said.

More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on Robb Elementary, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter, even as the gunman could be heard firing an AR-15-style rifle. Terrified students inside the classroom called 911 as parents begged officers — some of whom could hear shots being fired while they stood in a hallway — to go in. A tactical team of officers eventually went into the classroom and killed the shooter.

“I want every single person who was in the hallway charged for failure to protect the most innocent,” Velma Duran, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the teachers killed, said Friday. “My sister put her body in front of those children to protect them, something they could have done. They had the means and the tools to do it.”

It was unclear whether the grand jury considered indictments against any others.

Arredondo is accused of failing to protect survivors of the attack, including Khloie Torres, who called 911 and begged for help, telling a dispatcher, “Please hurry. There’s a lot of dead bodies. Some of my teachers are still alive but they’re shot.”

Gonzales’ indictment charges him with failing to protect children who were killed as well as survivors.

Although the investigative report by Texas lawmakers identified Gonzales as one the first officers to go in the the building, it also identified two other officers who allegedly heard gunfire. It is unclear whether those officers were part of the grand jury’s investigation.

“After hearing gun shots and being advised of the general location of the shooter and having time to respond to the shooter, (Gonzeles) failed to follow, engage, distract or delay the shooter” and “failed to respond to respond to gun fire,” the indictment said.

The charges carry up to two years in jail if convicted.

In an interview with the Texas Tribune two weeks after the shooting, Arredondo insisted he took the steps he believed would best protect the lives of students and teachers.

“My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff,” he told the newspaper.

Since then, scathing state and federal investigative reports on the police response have catalogued “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership and technology problems.

Arredondo lost his job and several other officers were eventually fired. Separate investigations by the Department of Justice and state lawmakers alleged law enforcement botched the response.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said the investigation should not stop with the indictments against Arredondo and Gonzales. Gutierrez has been critical of the Texas Department of Public Safety and its head, Steve McCraw. That department had more than 90 officers at the school — more than any other agency — and McCraw testified before the grand jury in February.

“Every single officer that stood down that day must be held accountable,” Gutierrez said. “We can’t rest until we have justice.”