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Uvalde school police force indefinitely suspended over mass shooting response

The suspensions are just the latest in the reckoning over the killing of 21 people at an elementary school five months ago.

UVALDE, Texas (CN) — The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District on Friday announced it is indefinitely suspending “all activities” of its school police force, part of the ongoing fallout over a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in May that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

The suspensions are just the latest in a reckoning over the botched police response to the shooting. Although around 375 officers from 23 different agencies responded to the scene, it took authorities more than an hour to confront and kill the attacker. An investigation by Texas lawmakers found there were “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” leading up to and during the shooting.

That sluggish response has enraged parents and community members in the small Texas city outside of San Antonio — and fueled demands for accountability. At a tense public meeting in August, the Uvalde school board voted unanimously to fire school police chief Pete Arredondo, who had made inaccurate statements to the media about his own role in the response.

Arredondo's firing was just the beginning. Also in August, a California law firm announced a $27 billion lawsuit against Uvalde CISD on behalf of victims and their families.

On Thursday, Uvalde CISD fired another school officer it had hired just months earlier. CNN had identified that officer, former Texas Department of Public Safety officer Crimson Elizondo, as being under investigation for her role in the police response.

While Elizondo mostly remained outside of Robb Elementary School during the shooting, she can be heard saying in body cam footage that she could "promise" she “would not have been outside” if her own child had been trapped in the school, CNN reported.

In a statement to the outlet after Elizondo's firing, Uvalde CISD said it was “deeply distressed” by this information and that the body-cam audio was “not consistent with the district’s expectations.”

In a news release on Friday announcing the suspensions, Uvalde CISD was short on details.

Investigations into the shooting by the Texas Police Chiefs Association and JPPI, an Austin-based independent firm hired by Uvalde CISD, had revealed “additional concerns” about school-police operations, the release stated. It did not provide details on those concerns, but said that more information would likely be released in a report later this month.

In the meantime, the Texas Department of Public Safety will “provide additional troopers for campus and extra-curricular activities,” according to the news release. The Texas DPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many officers and what specific services it would be providing to the school.

Uvalde CISD did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment on the news release. The Texas Police Chiefs Association also did not respond to a request for comment on its investigation. JPPI declined to comment.

It's unclear how many officers are affected by the suspensions or what will happen to them. According to the district's announcement, officers currently employed by Uvalde CISD will be reassigned to "fill other roles in the district."

In addition to the wide-ranging suspensions, Uvalde CISD also announced the suspensions of two top school officials.

Lieutenant Miguel Hernandez, who has served as acting school police chief since former chief Arrendondo's firing, will be placed on administrative leave. Ken Mueller, the director of student services at Uvalde CISD who was also facing administrative leave, has chosen to retire, the release stated.

Meanwhile, Hal Harrell, the embattled superintendent of Uvalde CISD, is also on his way out.

In an email to district employees this week, Harrell announced his plans to retire, KSAT, an ABC affiliate in San Antonio, reported. Harrell has also faced criticisms for his handling of the shooting, though the Uvalde school board declined to fire him at a meeting in August.

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