The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to terminate the employment of the district’s Police Chief Pete Arredondo, three months after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary school in Texas.
The vote came as Arredondo, who was one of the first responders on the scene, faced mounting criticism over his response to the mass shooting on May 24 that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.
He has been on administrative leave since June 22.
Arredondo was not present during the vote, which took place in a closed session as required by Texas law.
Prior to the vote, Arredondo’s attorney George Hyde released a 17-page statement (pdf) accusing Uvalde school officials of putting his client’s life at risk by not letting him carry a weapon to the school board meeting, despite “knowledge of legitimate risks of harm to the public and to Chief Arredondo and all others intending to be present.”
Hyde also claimed that the school district violated Arredondo’s constitutional due process rights by failing to provide him notice of the complaints against him and conduct an internal investigation establishing evidence supporting a decision to terminate his employment leading up to the hearing.
“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” the statement reads.
‘A Courageous Officer’
The attorney also defended his client’s actions on the day of the mass shooting, stating that a “perfect storm” of circumstances had culminated in the tragedy.
“Chief Arredondo is a leader and a courageous officer who with all of the other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time, and not for lack of effort,” Hyde wrote.
“There was only one person that caused this – the shooter. Recognizing that it was the Chief, Pete Arredondo, who warned the district over a year before this event of the vulnerability of the district to such an incident, should not be waiting with his head on the chopping block because what he feared happened,” the statement added.
However, hundreds of people who attended Wednesday’s vote, including relatives of the shooting victims, disagreed and emotions were clearly running high. Many of those in attendance chanted “coward” and “no justice, no peace.”
Arredondo is the first officer to be dismissed over the police response to the mass shooting incident; one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
One other officer, Uvalde Police Department Lt. Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of the massacre, was placed on administrative leave in July amid an evaluation into his response to the shooting.
In an interview with the Texas Tribune in June Arredondo defended his actions during the shooting, in which law enforcement took 77 minutes to take down gunman Salvador Ramos.
‘Shortcomings and Failures’
“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo said. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”
The Texas state House of Representatives on July 17 published a 77-page report noting that there were “shortcomings and failures” across the board by both law enforcement and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District in its handling of the mass shooting.
In its report, the state committee determined that Arredondo had “failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of the incident commander” on the day of the shooting.
Arredondo also testified to the House committee investigating the shooting that he thought the shooter was a “barricaded subject” as opposed to an “active shooter,” and that his priority was to protect people in the other classrooms from being hurt by the attacker.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we now know this was a terrible, tragic mistake,” Arredondo said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.