CNN has a very long piece about how there are many investigations going on about the Uvalde massacre but seemingly little to hold anyone accountable for it. Uvalde residents, especially the parents of Robb Elementary children, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of information and the lack of action.
At Uvalde school district and city council meetings this week, community members again pressed their elected officials on why officers at the school that day haven’t been relegated to desk duty or fired. The school district superintendent also was asked why he had not sought an independent investigation into the tragedy, and the mayor was pressed on how and why the city chose an Austin, Texas, investigator to lead its internal review.
“We have yet, almost three months later, to hear any answers or to see any accountability from anybody at any level — from law enforcement officers, to campus staff, to central office and beyond,” Uvalde resident Diana Olvedo-Karau told the school board. “And we just don’t understand why. I mean, how can we lose 19 children and two teachers tragically, just horribly, and not have anybody yet be accountable.”
“It’s approaching three months, and we are still being placated with tidbits or being outright stonewalled or being given excuses” about the city police department’s response, said resident Michele Prouty, who passed out complaint forms against Uvalde police at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “What we have instead — what we are traumatized again and again by — is an inept, unstructured national embarrassment of a circus tent full of smug clowns. These clowns continue to cruise our streets sporting their tarnished badges.”
A looming US Department of Justice after-action report has perhaps the strongest chance of giving a clear understanding of how the day’s horrific events unfolded, experts who spoke to CNN said. Such reports tend to home in on opportunities for improvement, while discipline typically must be backed by precise allegations that would hold up if challenged by an officer or subject to court hearings or arbitration processes.
But it’s not clear precisely what parameters those who are overseeing reviews of the city and school district police departments are using to identify systemic failures or root out findings that could lead to discipline for officers.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has said its wide-ranging internal review could result in referrals to an inspector general. The agency also is conducting the criminal investigation into the Uvalde massacre itself — probing details such as how the shooter got his guns and his online communications before the attack — separate from the internal review of its officers’ conduct at Robb Elementary. Part of that work, it has said, is “examining the actions of every member of (a) law enforcement agency that day.” But it’s not clear whether officers are cooperating with the inquiry.
The district attorney reviewing the criminal investigation, Christina Mitchell Busbee, said she would “seek an indictment on a law enforcement officer for a criminal offense, when appropriate, under the laws of Texas.” But it’s not clear under what law any officer might be charged or whether evidence so far supports charges.
Meantime, how Texas DPS has cast its own role in the tragedy already has come under scrutiny. Its officers were at Robb Elementary earlier than previously known — and longer than Texas DPS has publicly acknowledged — materials reviewed by CNN show, with at least one DPS trooper seen running toward the school, taking cover behind a vehicle and then running toward an entrance within 2-1/2 minutes of the shooter entering. The agency’s director instead publicly has focused on when the first DPS agent entered the hallway where classrooms were under attack.
Further, a Texas DPS spokesperson who made three phone calls to a DPS sergeant inside the school during the 70-plus minutes officers waited to confront the gunman later gave journalists a narrative that quickly unraveled. Since then, news organizations, including CNN, have sued the Texas DPS for access to public records related to the massacre.
Amid the inconsistencies, the head of the state’s largest police union, along with a senior state lawmaker, have questioned Texas DPS’s ability to investigate itself. “I don’t know that we can trust them to do an internal investigation,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told CNN.
“It would be best if the investigation were headed up by an outside independent source that the public can have total confidence in,” said Wilkison, whose union represents law enforcement officers across the state, including some in Uvalde.
It’s not clear whether any internal city investigation was underway between the May 24 massacre and the announcement of the internal investigation, though best practices for investigations dictate they usually begin as close to the incident as possible.
Then at a July 26 city council meeting, city officials said they’d hired the firm of Jesse Prado, a former Austin police homicide detective, to lead their review. Council members said their investigator should finish his work within two months, then Prado will make recommendations — possibly including disciplinary actions — to the council.
“If there’s any officer that’s in violation of any policy or procedure that they needed to act on and did not and might have caused these children to die, these teachers to die, I can assure you, heads are going to roll,” Uvalde City Councilmember Hector Luevano said during the session. Prado declined to comment for this story.
City officials, meantime, have refused for nearly two weeks to answer questions about their review of officers’ actions that day. Tarski Law, listed on the city council’s website as city attorney, also declined to comment and referred questions to Gina Eisenberg, president of a public relations firm that specializes in “crisis communications” and was hired by the city to field media requests. Eisenberg said the city would not comment. McLaughlin, the mayor, said Tuesday he couldn’t characterize the city’s relationship with Eisenberg, who hired her or who is paying her bill, saying, “I don’t know anything about her. I have nothing to do with it.”
Eisenberg also declined to answer questions about the city police department review process. McLaughlin was certain such a process existed but wasn’t aware of related procedures, he told CNN on Tuesday. The internal investigation led by Prado was launched August 1, Eisenberg said. The city attorney chose Prado for the job without a bidding process and based on word-of-mouth recommendations, the mayor told CNN; Tarski Law referred CNN to Eisenberg, who wouldn’t provide a copy of its contract with Prado’s firm, explain what the department’s internal affairs process was before the shooting or say whether that process was used at any time before Prado was hired. Eisenberg said the city would not release further information or comment.
The full scope of Prado’s investigation also isn’t clear — whether he’s conducting an after-action review meant to identify failures for future understanding or investigating specific allegations of broken rules in response to internal complaints, or some hybrid. Prado will have “free range to take the investigation wherever the investigation takes him,” McLaughlin told CNN on Tuesday. While it’s unlikely Prado’s source materials will be released, the mayor said, he vowed to make Prado’s report public after first sharing it with victims’ families — “if I have any say in it.”
“When we see that report, whatever it tells us we need to do and changes we need to make — if it tells us we need to let people go or whatever it tells us — then that’s what we will do,” McLaughlin told CNN.
While it’s unclear when any of the reviews of law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre will wrap up, the Texas DPS probe — like the others — could have implications for its own and other officers, raising the stakes for how impartially and transparently it’s handled. As with the other probes, too, how it’s conducted and what it concludes will impact what closure families of the slain in this small, tortured city can receive.
Texas DPS “was fast to wash its hands, to point fingers and to make sure that the general public, particularly the elected officials, knew that they were spotless, blameless and that this was a local problem,” said Wilkison, the police union chief. ”No one created this environment, (in) which everyone’s to blame except DPS. No one did that except them. If we’re to never, ever let this happen in Texas, we have to know what happened, exactly what happened.”
Even with that long excerpt, there’s a ton more at the link, so go read the whole thing. I can’t say I’m a big fan of CLEAT, but Charley Wilkison is right that the report DPS is working on is deeply suspect. I expect that the Justice Department probe will be the most useful, but all they can do is make recommendations. They have no power to change anything. That’s up to DPS and the locals themselves, and it’s clear none of them are particularly motivated to examine themselves.
As I see it, there are two paths to actually making things happen. One is through lawsuits, filed by the parents of the murdered children. File against DPS, against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde police and the Uvalde school police, and so forth. This will be painful for them, it will take years to get to a conclusion, and it will be a massive fight to get the kind of information they’ve been demanding released, but the discovery process once it kicks in will be a very effective provider of sunlight. The downside is as noted – it will take years and be traumatic over and over again for the families – but in the end I would expect to finally get a real view of what happened, and maybe some financial penalties for the malfunctioning government entities.
The other is through elections. The people of Uvalde should give strong consideration to voting out their entire city and school district governments. Maybe some of those same parents might want to run for one or more of those offices. You want transparency, put some people in power who are truly committed to it. Along those same lines, voting in a new Governor would be the most direct route to getting transparency from DPS. I feel quite confident that Governor Beto O’Rourke will be delighted to appoint a new head of DPS with a mandate to clean house and make public all of the things that department did wrong in this debacle. Nothing like a little regime change to make things happen.