HomeTop StoriesUvalde Families of shooting victims sue Texas DPS officers

Uvalde Families of shooting victims sue Texas DPS officers

This article was originally published in The Texas Tribune.

Relatives of 17 children killed and two injured in Texas’ deadliest school shooting are suing Texas Department of Public Safety officers, who were among hundreds of law enforcement officers who waited 77 minutes to find the gunman at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary confrontation, lawyers announced last week.

“Nearly 100 Texas Department of Public Safety officers have yet to bear an ounce of responsibility for cowering in fear as my daughter and cousin bled to death in their classroom,” said Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and cousin Jayce were killed. a statement.

The legal action against 92 DPS officers came days before the two-year anniversary of the shooting in which an 18-year-old used an AR-15 to kill 19 students and two teachers in two adjacent fourth-grade classrooms.


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Relatives of most of the students killed and two injured also announced last week that they are suing Mandy Gutierrez, Robb’s principal at the time, and Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the school district’s police chief, for their actions. ‘inactivity’ that day.

The families’ attorney also announced that the city of Uvalde will pay them $2 million to avoid a lawsuit. In addition, the city will, among other things, provide better training for current and future police officers, designate May 24 as an annual day of remembrance and work with the families of the victims to design a permanent memorial in the city square.

A DPS spokesperson declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

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At a news conference in Uvalde, an attorney for the families, Josh Koskoff, said the state’s failure to prevent the deaths began long before the shooting. He said Texas has failed to provide small communities like Uvalde with adequate resources to train their officers.

“Do you think the city of Uvalde has enough money, training or resources? Do you think they can hire the best of the best? Koskov said. “As far as the state of Texas is concerned, it sounds like their position is: You’re on your own.”

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Koskoff also hinted that the families could also sue state and federal agencies, but did not name which ones. He also said the families are negotiating an agreement with the province that would also avoid a lawsuit.

Javier Cazares, the father of one of the victims, Jacklyn Cazares, said it had been “an unbearable two years” since the massacre that killed his daughter.

“There was a clear system error on May 24. The whole world saw that,” Cazares said. “The time has come to do the right thing.”

The family’s lawsuit will likely have to overcome a court doctrine called qualified immunity, which protects government officials, including law enforcement officers, from liability in lawsuits. To overcome that immunity, it will have to be established that the officers violated a constitutional right.

“We believe that this situation in which children are forced to be confined to their classrooms limits their freedom,” Koskoff said. “In this situation, we feel qualified immunity does not apply.”

Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde in the Legislature, introduced a bill last year aimed at ending qualified immunity. Like several other bills introduced in response to the massacre, that bill was not passed.

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Koskoff, who also represented the families of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, said city officials had also failed to hold their officers accountable, but praised the city for working with the families to make changes aimed at preventing another tragedy like the 2022 shooting.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from dozens of local, state and federal agencies have been heavily criticized for waiting more than an hour to confront the shooter, violating training that instructs them to confront a shooter if there is reason to suspect assume someone is injured. The U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the massacre concluded that the delay likely led to some deaths and that deficiencies in leadership and training contributed to the ineffective law enforcement response.

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Koskoff noted that law enforcement outnumbered the shooter 376 to 1.

“On paper it shouldn’t have been a competition. So what happened?” Koskov said. “Maybe it turns out that if a child has a military weapon, the military weapon – the AR-15 – and you get easy access to it, it may not be that easy to target such a child against Of course they didn’t give themselves a chance, these 376 officers.”

In the settlement with the city of Uvalde that the families’ attorneys announced May 22, local officials will implement a new “fitness for duty” standard for Uvalde police officers, which will be developed in coordination with the Department of Justice and provide better will provide training for current and future police officers.

“For two long years we agonized in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day,” Luevanos said. “This settlement reflects an initial good faith effort, particularly by the City of Uvalde, to rebuild trust in the systems that have failed to protect us.”

In a written statement, city officials called the shooting the community’s “greatest tragedy” of 2022.

“We will be forever grateful to the families of the victims for working with us over the past year to create an environment of community-wide healing that honors the lives and memories of those we have tragically lost,” city officials said .

An investigation by a Texas House committee found that nearly everyone involved in the response had “systemic failures and glaring poor decision-making.”

That panel’s 77-page report found that a total of 376 law enforcement officers stormed the school in an uncoordinated manner, without regard to their own active shooter training.

The majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement officers — 149 U.S. Border Patrol and 91 state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks on public places.” The other responders included 25 Uvalde police officers, 16 sheriff’s deputies and five police officers from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, as well as law enforcement officers from neighboring counties, U.S. marshals and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

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According to the House of Representatives report, the numerous failures in law enforcement stemmed from a lack of leadership and effective communication. DPS fired at least two officers who responded to the shooting.

A large number of recorded investigative interviews and body camera footage obtained by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and FRONTLINE revealed that officers failed to establish a clear chain of command and spread misinformation, resulting in them treating the shooter as a barricaded suspect rather than an active threat. – even as children and teachers in classrooms called 911 and begged for help. No officer engaged the gunman for more than an hour, despite training that says to do so as quickly as possible if someone is injured.

After intense criticism of their response, several law enforcement officers resigned or were fired in the months following the shooting. Arredondo, then the school district’s police chief, was fired in August 2022.

About 72% of state and local officers who arrived at Robb Elementary before the shooter was killed received some form of active shooter training throughout their law enforcement careers. But of those who received training, most had only completed it once. After the shooting, Texas mandated that officers receive 16 hours of active shooter training every two years.

A Uvalde County grand jury is currently considering possible criminal charges against responding officers. The county’s attorney general declined to comment this week on the status of these proceedings.

DPS is fighting the release of documents from the investigation into the shooting. In the aftermath of the massacre, agency leaders carefully crafted a narrative that cast local law enforcement as incompetent.

Koskoff criticized DPS for deflecting blame from state police.

“Like they didn’t know how to shoot someone?” he said.

Pooja Salhotra contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/22/uvalde-shooting-texas-dps-lawsuit/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom that informs and engages Texans about state politics and policy. More information can be found at texastribune.org.

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