UVALDE, Texas (AP) – As video captured at Robb Elementary School highlights the bewildering law enforcement inaction during the May massacre of 19 children and two teachers, with some in Uvalde crying: will the police face the consequences?
Just an officer at the scene of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history is known to be on vacation. Authorities still have not released the names of officers who paced in and out of a hallway near the adjoining fourth-grade classrooms where the gunman fired for more than an hour. And almost two months after the massacre, there is still disagreement over who was in charge.
A nearly 80-minute hallway surveillance video released by the Austin American-Statesman showed for the first time publicly – with disturbing and painful clarity – a hesitant and haphazard tactical response by fully armed officers, which the Texas State Police chief described as a failure and some Uvalde Residents blasted as cowards.
But it’s unclear whether the actions – or inactions – of officials at the school on May 24 will draw more than criticism, even as calls for accountability and anger mount. City and state leaders have urged people to allow investigations.
There are signs that impatience is growing: Hours after the video was released, local residents called out from their seats at a city council meeting on Tuesday, wanting to know if officers who took part in the shooting were still on duty or had been paid. The council members did not answer.
“What about the cops?” one person yelled.
Police are afforded considerable legal protections founded on the idea that their work, often under great pressure, requires a life and death sentence. Even with officers’ hesitations caught on video, police experts say it’s difficult to predict how likely they are to face disciplinary action or legal action.
“It’s going to come down to what a reasonable police officer would have perceived at that moment,” said Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson.
Footage from a hallway camera at the school shows the gunman entering the building with an AR-15 style rifle and includes a 911 tape of a teacher yelling, “Get down! Get down!” Into your rooms! Go to your rooms!”
Two officers approach the classrooms minutes after the gunman entered, then run back amid gunfire. Minutes pass from there and more shots are heard from the classrooms as more officials from multiple agencies arrive. More than an hour goes by before a team finally makes it down the hall, breaching the classrooms and ending the massacre.
More than a dozen officers – some armed with rifles and bulletproof shields – can be seen at some points in the video. During the long wait to confront the gunman, a man in a body armor and a vest that says “Sheriff” squeezes a few puffs of hand sanitizer from a wall-mounted dispenser.
It’s a vastly different scene from the one Republican Gov. Greg Abbott described the day after the shooting, when he praised a quick response and officials who “showed amazing courage in running for gunfire.” Abbott later said he received false information but not identified by whom.
This is just one example of inaccurate and conflicting statements from authorities in the seven weeks since the shooting. Asked Wednesday whether officers should be disciplined for their inaction, Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said the governor “believes it would be premature to take action” until the investigation is complete.
After the 2018 shooting at Parkland High School in Florida that killed 17 people, a congressman who knew the shooter was free but refused to go inside was arrested on criminal charges. Legal experts have described this as an extremely rare case in which someone is charged essentially with not putting themselves in danger and have expressed skepticism about the case, which will go to trial in February.
Former US Attorney Joe Brown, who spent two decades as a Republican district attorney in North Texas, said there is “no criminal statute for dereliction of duty” and that criminal liability for police in such circumstances “carries with enormous social costs.” But he said officers who fail to meet their “moral duty to intervene” could still be ridiculed or fired.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said it was too early to decide whether any officers should be removed from the force. “I don’t know that they have to resign,” he said. “But everything needs to be checked.”
So far, officials have only publicly confirmed one furloughed officer: Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief who also resigned from his newly won seat on the city council last month. He has disputed the state police characterization that he was responsible for the scene.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said none of the soldiers present there had been suspended. Officials from the Uvalde Police Department and Sheriff did not answer questions about whether any of their officers were suspended or placed on leave.
Greg Shaffer, a Dallas-based national security adviser and retired member of the FBI’s hostage rescue team, said the officers in the video should at least switch to another line of work.
“I think everyone in this hallway should reconsider their career choices,” he said. “If you don’t have the guts and attitude to run towards gunshots as a cop, then you’re in the wrong job.”
Weber reported from Austin, Texas and Bleiberg reported from Dallas.