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Uvalde mayor accuses state of leaking records to make local police look bad

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin spoke during a City Council meeting on Tuesday. McLaughlin accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about their investigation into the Uvalde shooting last month to disparage local law enforcement.
Kylie Cooper
The Texas Tribune
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin spoke during a City Council meeting on Tuesday. McLaughlin accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about their investigation into the Uvalde shooting last month to disparage local law enforcement.

Relatives of the victims and other members of the community also called for the ousting of Pete Arredondo, who is the police chief of the city’s school district and a newly elected council member.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about last month’s school shooting to scapegoat local law enforcement and intentionally leaving out details about the state’s response to the massacre.

New details emerged this week about the timeline of the shooting based on surveillance video from the school’s hallways and a transcript of officers’ body cameras. The records show that officers might not have attempted to open the doors of the classrooms where the gunman had holed up with victims. During a state Senate committee held earlier Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told lawmakers that law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure.”

McLaughlin lambasted McCraw for what he described as a selective release of information about the investigation, focusing on blaming local law enforcement and leaving out the role of McCraw’s agency during the shooting.

“McCraw has continued to, whether you want to call it, lie, leak … mislead or misstate information in order to distance his own troopers and rangers from the response,” McLaughlin said Tuesday evening.

McLaughlin said none of the entities with information about the investigation into the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School — DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI — have briefed Uvalde city officials about their findings.

McLaughlin said he had been asked to refrain from sharing details about the investigation while it was ongoing but said Tuesday he would now start releasing that information as it became available to city officials.

“The gloves are off. If we know it, we will share it,” he said.

McLaughlin’s comments at a special City Council meeting seemed to contradict a press release issued just hours before, in which the mayor had said city officials would refrain from commenting on the investigation “or reacting to every story attributed to unnamed sources or sources close to the investigation.”

The special meeting was held in part to discuss whether to grant a leave of absence for Pete Arredondo, the newly elected City Council member who also serves as the chief of police of the city’s school district and has been criticized for his role in the law enforcement response to the shooting. Local leaders unanimously denied giving him the leave of absence from future council meetings.

Arredondo was not present during Tuesday’s special meeting. He testified in closed session to a state House committee on Tuesday in Austin, though it was not clear if Arredondo requested the leave of absence from City Council meetings.

If Arredondo fails to show up for three consecutive meetings without obtaining a leave of absence, he will forfeit his position as a council member for Uvalde’s District 3, per the city’s charter.

The council’s vote followed some of the community’s most forceful public calls for accountability and transparency about the details of the May 24 shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. Law enforcement officers who responded to the shooting — and in particular Arredondo, who has been labeled by state officials as the “incident commander” on the scene — have been under fire for taking over an hour to engage and take down the shooter.

Arredondo’s account of the events differs in some key aspects from the information gleaned from records and law enforcement statements. He told The Texas Tribune he attempted to open the classrooms’ doors but they were locked. He has also said he did not consider himself to be the incident commander at the scene.

Residents on Tuesday also expressed anger at city officials’ silence after the shooting and what seemed like their support of Arredondo. Some people in the crowd held signs that read, “Fire Pete” and “Hey, Pete. Get Out.” Uvalde resident Brett Cross called for Arredondo’s removal and demanded that the council respond to the community’s calls for accountability and transparency, saying, “If I failed my job I’d get fired, and that would apply for anyone here.”

Before the council’s vote, Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, who was killed in last month’s shooting, said that the days since May 24 have been a rollercoaster of emotions. The hurt and anger she’s since felt get “worse and worse,” she said.

Arreola called for Arredondo’s removal from the council, saying, “Do what you have to do but get him out of our faces.”

Jesus Rizo, the uncle of another victim, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares, said, “At one point or another, ladies and gentlemen, we have to determine what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Rizo, who called himself Arredondo’s friend and McLaughlin’s neighbor, added that he wants the mayor to be as forceful holding people accountable as he was when he rebuked gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke when he interrupted a press conference held by Gov. Greg Abbott about the shooting.

Rogelio Muñoz, a former Uvalde council member who previously represented Arredondo’s district, expressed concern over the city’s handling of public information.

“The community needs you to be advocates. These families need you to be advocates,” Muñoz said.

Ariana Perez-Castells contributed to this story.