Jan 19, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"We deserve justice": Uvalde families want police to face charges after DOJ report

Police on near a memorial for victims of the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in May 2023.

Police stand near a memorial for victims of the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in May 2023. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Families of victims of the 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, again called for police to face criminal charges after the release of a damning Department of Justice (DOJ) report on law enforcement's mishandling of the incident, AP reports.

Why it matters: Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell has been leading a criminal investigation into police failures in the shooting, which left nineteen children and two adults dead at Robb Elementary School. But the decision of whether to charge officers has been delayed, frustrating family members of the victims and the Uvalde community.

  • Of the hundreds of officers who responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting, at least five have been fired or resigned, per AP.
  • Families of survivors of the shooting filed a $27 billion class-action lawsuit against law enforcement and Uvalde school district officials in 2022, alleging their failures to follow active shooter protocols contributed to the severity of the shooting.

What they're saying: Velma Lisa Duran, a sister of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers killed in the shooting, told AP she was surprised no one has faced criminal liability over the shooting.

  • "It's sort of a slap in the face that all we get is a review ... we deserve justice," she said.
  • "It is hard enough waking up every day and continuing to walk out on these streets, walk to a [grocery store] and see a cop who you know was standing there when our babies were murdered and bleeding out," said Brett Cross, who had been raising Uziyah Garcia, his 10-year-old nephew, when the boy was killed in the shooting, according to AP.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez criticized the Uvalde County DA in a statement to AP, saying "there's no end in sight for this local district attorney to be able to do anything."

  • "We don't know if she's going to indict anybody at all," he said. "It's really a shame where we are now."

Catch up quick: The DOJ report released Thursday concluded that the police response was a "failure" on multiple fronts.

  • Police needlessly waited for over an hour to confront the lone gunman, who was armed with an AR-15 style rifle and had trapped and shot several children and teachers inside two combined classrooms.
  • The police have maintained that they were delayed by the doors of the classrooms being locked, but the DOJ report concluded at least one of the doors was likely unlocked the entire time.
  • The DOJ report also rebuked local and state police for failing to establish clear leadership and reduce disorganization and confusion as over 370 officers responded to the shooting.

In addition to failing to confront the shooter as quickly as possible, the DOJ report noted that first responders had failed to adequately prepare to treat wounded victims who had been trapped with the gunman.

  • Despite knowing that the gunman had shot multiple victims, the report said plans to triage the 35 injured victims were not prepared.
  • Deceased victims were taken away from the school in ambulances, while children, some of whom had bullet wounds, were taken to hospitals on buses without medical attention.

Of note: The DOJ's report was not a part of a criminal investigation but rather a "critical incident review" to provide an official account of how officials responded the shooting.

The big picture: It's unclear if police can be held criminally liable for their handling of the shooting.

  • Courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled in previous civil cases that police do not have a legal responsibility to protect the public, including students caught in the middle of a mass shooting.
  • Law enforcement officials who responded other school shootings across the country have faced criminal charges, such as former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson over his inaction during the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Florida,
  • Peterson was found not guilty of felony child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury last year, but he was fired from his position after the shooting.

Go deeper: Mass shootings increased while gun violence deaths dropped in 2023

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