Pete Arredondo, the police chief of the Uvalde, Texas, school district, was placed on administrative leave Wednesday amid criticism about the law enforcement response to the massacre at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead last month.
Hal Harrell, superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, said that, although the district initially planned to wait until investigations of the shooting were completed before making personnel decisions, his office was “still without details” and had made the decision to remove Arredondo from duty while those inquiries continue.
“Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date,” Harrell said in a statement.
It’s unclear if Arredondo’s leave is paid or unpaid. He will be replaced by Lt. Mike Hernandez.
The chief has come under fierce scrutiny after the May 24 mass shooting amid reports that officers from multiple agencies quickly arrived at the school to confront the gunman but then took more than an hour to enter the classroom where he had holed up.
The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Col. Steve McCraw, excoriated law enforcement this week, saying their response was an “abject failure” and that police “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.” McCraw said there were enough officers on scene three minutes after the shooter entered the school to stop him, adding that police never checked the classroom door to see if it was locked, instead waiting more than an hour for a key.
“The officers had weapons; the children had none,” McCraw told The Texas Tribune this week. “The officers had body armor; the children had none. The officers had training; the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds. That’s how long children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued.”
Arredondo has been described as the incident commander on scene during the attack, but the chief said he didn’t consider himself in charge as the shooting unfolded. He’s defended the actions of officers, saying his goal was to get to the school “as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff.”
“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo told the Tribune in an interview this month. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced.”
Arredondo, who was elected to the Uvalde City Council on May 7, was recently denied a leave of absence from his council role as investigations into the shooting continue. The City Council said he could be removed from his seat if he missed the next two meetings.