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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Uvalde sues prosecutor for information about elementary school massacre

Demotions, suspensions or terminations of Uvalde police may be warranted for their failure to intervene during the shooting, the city says, but a reticent prosecutor is impeding its probe.

(CN) — The city of Uvalde sued a district attorney Thursday for withholding records needed for its investigation of its police officers’ response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary.

The fallout over law enforcement’s ineptitude during a gunman’s massacre of 19 students and two teachers on May 24 in the close-knit West Texas town, population 15,000, is still in flux, and Uvalde police officers may yet face discipline for their inaction that day.

But the anger of the victims’ relatives and Uvalde residents is not solely directed at the city’s police force.

After the first 911 calls about a shooter on campus, authorities took more than an hour to enter the classrooms as the gunman mowed down fourth-graders with bursts of rounds from his assault rifle, despite a gathering of around 375 officers from 23 different agencies at the scene.

Key officials have been terminated or resigned amid withering scrutiny.

Former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief Pete Arredondo was fired in August after insisting he was unaware the role of incident commander fell to him during the shooting.

The district followed up in early October with an indefinite suspension of its entire police force. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are now stationed at its campuses in their stead.

The man in charge of the Uvalde Police Department that day, acting chief Lt. Mariano Pargas, resigned Nov. 17 with the Uvalde City Council set to vote on whether to get rid of him, though he had been on leave since July.

The city hired Jesse Prado, a former police detective and owner of JPPI Investigations in Austin, to do an independent internal affairs investigation of its officers’ actions during the shooting and decide if demotions, suspensions or terminations are warranted.

But the city claims Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell is blocking Prado’s access to bodycam footage and written reports from other agencies — the Border Patrol, Texas DPS, the county sheriff’s office and local constable precincts — that contain crucial information he needs to examine Uvalde officers’ response.

Mitchell is doing her own criminal investigation into the shooting and, according to the lawsuit, she told the city’s representatives at a meeting in which they unsuccessfully tried to get the records from her she expected to finish by the end of November.

Represented by Clarissa Rodriguez with Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech of San Antonio, the city stresses it knows the information must remain confidential to avoid disclosing any details of Mitchell’s probe.

“At this time, there have been no charges and the investigation is ongoing. As the city’s agent, Prado will maintain a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement,” the complaint states.

Uvalde seeks an injunction compelling Mitchell to hand over all bodycam footage from every law enforcement agency whose officers went into Robb Elementary on May 24 and any written reports from these officers. It also wants school surveillance footage and all Texas DPS investigator reports.

An employee of the DA’s Office said Mitchell is not commenting on the lawsuit.

City officials said the community deserves transparency and is tired of waiting for answers.

“The District Attorney has blocked the City’s ability to obtain critical information to assess its officers’ actions and compliance with police department policies and expectations,” they said in a statement. “From day one, the city’s focus is on helping the entire Uvalde community, parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and young survivors navigate through the healing process.”

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Law

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