Fed inquiry: In furor over Uvalde, DOJ reviews law enforcement response

Police officers stand next to a makeshift memorial outside the Robb Elementary School on May 26.

Police officers stand next to a makeshift memorial outside the Robb Elementary School on May 26. allison dinner / AFP

The Texas Department of Public Safety previously said local police made key errors. A specialized team of federal officers didn’t enter the school until more than an hour after the shooter arrived at the school.

The U.S. Department of Justice will review the law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school massacre as local police face intense scrutiny for not acting quickly enough to confront the shooter.

“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” Anthony Coley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department, wrote in a statement Sunday.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin requested the Justice Department investigation, Coley said.

Police officers made a crucial error in waiting to stop the 18-year-old gunman rampaging at Robb Elementary School because the school district's chief of police wanted to wait for backup and equipment, said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, students were still trapped inside with the gunman, repeatedly calling 911 for help.

By the time a specialized team of federal officers arrived and entered the school, more than an hour had passed since the shooter had arrived at the school, McCraw said.

“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period. There's no excuse for that.”

“When it comes to an active shooter, you don't have to wait on tactical gear, plain and simple,” he said.

After the mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, law enforcement moved away from the tactics of waiting and setting a perimeter during an active shooter situation. Police are now trained to immediately enter and try to stop the shooter.

Since the shooting, state law enforcement officials have given vague and conflicting answers on what exactly happened after the gunman arrived at the school. In the days after the massacre at Robb Elementary, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter was met by a police officer employed by the school district — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.

Agency officials now say there was no police officer on campus when the shooter first arrived — but did not explain why they first believed there was.

Gov. Greg Abbott has also walked back some of his initial statements about the shooting, saying he was “misled” about the police response.

“I am livid about what happened,” Abbott said during a Friday conference in Uvalde. “The information I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate, and I am absolutely livid about that.”

U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro called for the FBI to intervene and launch an independent investigation into the police response to the shooting.

Uvalde County Commissioner Ronald Garza on CBS’ “Face the Nation” said he “welcomed” a federal inquiry. Garza said he was “still in the dark” over the slow law enforcement response to the shooting.

“We need to learn more,” Garza added. “As tragic as this may seem, we need to learn from this, you know. And parents deserve answers.”

Abby Livingston contributed reporting.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/29/uvalde-shooting-response-justice-department/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

This article was published first by GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site ("The Justice Department Will Review the Uvalde Response as Furor Mounts Over Law Enforcement Actions.")

NEXT STORY: Podcast: Federal law enforcement's role, after Uvalde

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