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DOJ report on law enforcement response to Uvalde shooting finds ‘cascading failures’

“An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject,” the report says

Uvalde police.jpg

Uvalde Police Department

Associated Press

UVALDE, Texas — Police officials who responded to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas “demonstrated no urgency” in setting up a command post and failed to treat the killings as an active shooter situation, according to a Justice Department report released Thursday that identifies “cascading failures” in law enforcement’s handling of one of the deadliest massacres at a school in American history.

The Justice Department report, the most comprehensive federal accounting of the haphazard police response to the shooting at Robb Elementary School, identifies a vast array of problems from failed communication and leadership to inadequate technology and training that federal officials say contributed to the crisis lasting far longer than it should have, even as terrified students inside the classrooms called 911 and agonized parents begged officers to go in.

“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022 — and the response by officials in the hours and days after — was a failure. As a consequence of failed leadership, training, and policies, 33 students and three of their teachers — many of whom had been shot — were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside.”

Even for a mass shooting that has already been the subject of intense scrutiny and in-depth examinations, the nearly 600-page Justice Department report adds to the public understanding of how police in Uvalde failed to stop an attack that killed 19 children and two staff members.

Uvalde, a community of more than 15,000, continues to struggle with the trauma left by the killing of 19 elementary students and two teachers, and remains divided on questions of accountability for officers’ actions and inaction.

The shooting has already been picked over in legislative hearings, news reports and a damning report by Texas lawmakers who faulted law enforcement at every level with failing “to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”

Uvalde school district officers arrived within three minutes of Ramos’ arrival at the school and ran toward the classroom, but as they approached, Ramos fired from inside the classroom. Two officers were hit by shrapnel and police retreated to take cover.

“An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject,” the report says, with the word “never” emphasized in italics.

In the 20 months since the Justice Department announced its review, footage showing police waiting in a hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where the gunman opened fire has become the target of national ridicule.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Uvalde on Wednesday ahead of the release of the report, visiting murals of the victims that have been painted around the center of the town. Later that night, Justice Department officials privately briefed family members at a community center in Uvalde before the findings were made public.

Berlinda Arreola, whose granddaughter was killed in the shooting, said following Wednesday night’s meeting that accountability remained in the hands of local prosecutors who are separately conducting a criminal investigation into the police response.

“I have a lot of emotions right now. I don’t have a lot of words to say,” Arreola said.

The review by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services was launched just days after the shooting, and local prosecutors are still evaluating a separate criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers. Several of the officers involved have lost their jobs.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said in a statement Wednesday that she had not been given an advance copy of the Justice Department’s report but had been informed it does not address any potential criminal charges.

How police respond to mass shootings around the country has been scrutinized since the tragedy in Uvalde, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised the courage of officers’ response and blame was later cast heavily on local authorities in Uvalde. But an 80-page report from a panel of state lawmakers and investigations by journalists laid bare how over the course of more than 70 minutes, a mass of officers went in and out of the school with weapons drawn but did not go inside the classroom where the shooting was taking place. The 376 officers at the scene included state police, Uvalde police, school officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The delayed response countered active-shooter training that emphasizes confronting the gunman, a standard established more than two decades ago after the mass shooting at Columbine High School showed that waiting cost lives. As what happened during the shooting has become clear, the families of some victims have blasted police as cowards and demanded resignations.

At least five officers have lost their jobs, including two Department of Public Safety officers and Uvalde’s school police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack.