HOUSTON — The chief of the school district police force in Uvalde, Texas, was placed on administrative leave after the state’s top police official faulted him for delaying the confrontation with a gunman at Robb Elementary School last month, the school district said on Wednesday.
Chief Pete Arredondo was among the first officers to arrive at the school after the shooting began on May 24. According to the director of the state police, Steven McCraw, he was also the incident commander for the response, which Mr. McCraw called an “abject failure.”
Though officers from several agencies entered the minutes after a gunman opened fire in two connected classrooms, they waited more than an hour before confronting and killing him. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed in the attack.
The school district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell, said in a news release that he had planned to “wait until the investigation was complete before making personnel decisions.” But he said he ultimately made the decision to put the chief on leave because “of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results.”
The shooting and the police response is currently the subject of several investigations, including by Mr. McCraw’s Department of Public Safety, the US Justice Department and a special committee of the Texas Legislature.
Lt. Mike Hernandez will take over the role of chief for the department, Dr. Harrell said. It has six uniformed members and jurisdiction at the schools in Uvalde.
Chief Arredondo has defended his decision-making, and said in an interview this month that he did not believe he was in charge of the response at Robb Elementary School. The law firm representing him declined further comment on Wednesday.
A day before the school district’s decision, Chief Arredondo was denied a leave of absence by the Uvalde City Council, to which he was elected shortly before the shooting. He has not appeared at public meetings since the attack and without the leave he could be forced to relinquish his Council seat after three missed meetings.
Ahead of the vote on Tuesday night, some Uvalde parents and residents addressed the Council and spoke forcefully against Chief Arredondo.
“We are having to beg y’all to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said Berlinda Arreola, the grandmother of Amerie Joe Garza, during the meeting, wearing a shirt featuring her late granddaughter. “He failed us. Do not make the same mistake he made and fail us too.”
As the Council signaled that it would deny Chief Arredondo’s leave of absence, many in the crowd cheered and applauded.