Jul 19, 2022 - World

Police unlikely to face charges after Uvalde failures, experts say

A memorial filled with flowers and teddy bears sits at the front gate of Robb Elementary in Uvalde
A memorial in Uvalde. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

The shoddy response to the Uvalde shooting that left 19 children and their two teachers dead will likely lead to policy changes, but it's still unclear whether individual police officers will be held accountable.

The big picture: An investigative report released Sunday by a Texas House of Representatives committee found a total 376 officers who responded to the scene — most of whom were state and federal police — lacked clear leadership and communication as well as urgency to stop the gunman.

  • The report — and a leaked video released by two media outlets in Austin last week — elicited strong condemnation from the families of the victims and others who say police failed to do their jobs. The acting Uvalde police chief was placed on leave Sunday after the report came out.

What they're saying: Phillip Lyons, director of the Criminal Justice Center at Sam Houston State University, told Axios that Texas law makes it nearly impossible to bring criminal charges against officers for inaction and difficult to file a civil lawsuit.

  • "But it will be up to a judge to decide that immunity. After that, it can go to a jury, and juries will do what juries do," Lyons said.

The legislative committee wrote in its report that "other than the attacker ... it didn't find "any 'villains' in the course of its investigation."

  • It added: "Instead, we found systemic failures and egregious poor decision making."
  • The report also found that although Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo was supposed to assume command, "he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander."

Timothy Bray, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, said police should reconsider training for chaotic incidents like this shooting. Police are trained to strictly follow orders from whoever is in command, but that wasn't clear the day of the shooting.

  • "Beyond officer accountability, the system needs to be held accountable. It's more than an individual officer's decision," Bray said.
  • "We need to look at the big picture," Bray added.

What's next: Lyons and Bray said Texas and other states might see proposals that allow police to clarify who is the incident commander at scenes so officers aren't confused.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott said in a brief statement on Monday that he planned on working with lawmakers to improve "public safety, school safety, and mental health assessment and treatment," but he didn't go into details. A spokesperson has not responded to an inquiry from Axios.

Flashback: The law enforcement response in Uvalde has been compared with the 2017 shooting at an Aztec, N.M., high school.

  • In the New Mexico shooting, a gunman disguised himself as a student before beginning his rampage, killing students Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez.
  • But unlike Uvalde, police arrived at the scene in less than a minute and broke into the school through a window. Police say the gunman killed himself as police approached him while students barricaded themselves.
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