How Badly Did The Police Screw Up The Uvalde Shooting? So Badly!
One of the more jarring things about the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, aside from the fact that an obviously disturbed 18-year-old kid easily obtained an AR-15 and gunned down a bunch of school children, was the fact that the police did not seem to do a hell of a lot to stop that, or to rescue the children before they were killed or severely injured. We saw it with our own eyes, the parents saw it with their own eyes, and yet we're now just getting to understand how much worse that response was than anyone thought.
Notably, it turns out that Chief Pete Arredondo, the chief of the school district police, didn't even know he was in charge of anything and thought that was someone else's job. Arredondo explained this in an interview with the Texas Tribune published late Thursday evening.
Arredondo assumed that some other officer or official had taken control of the larger response. He took on the role of a front-line responder.
He said he never considered himself the scene’s incident commander and did not give any instruction that police should not attempt to breach the building. DPS officials have described Arredondo as the incident commander and said Arredondo made the call to stand down and treat the incident as a “barricaded suspect,” which halted the attempt to enter the room and take down the shooter. “I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
Chief Arredondo also said that he left his radios outside on purpose. He explained to the Tribune that he believed these radios would slow him down, because one "had a whiplike antenna that would hit him as he ran" and "other had a clip that Arredondo knew would cause it to fall off his tactical belt during a long run." He also said that "he knew from experience that the radios did not work in some school buildings."
All of these things — much like having keys to all the doors in the school, which they also did not have access to — seem a lot like things the chief of a police force specifically dedicated to protecting a school district might have wanted to figure out before a mass shooter started gunning children down. What is it they were doing otherwise?
Steve Ijames, a police tactics expert and former assistant police chief of Springfield, Missouri, also told the Tribune that he had never heard of a police officer leaving their radio outside, and that police officers are trained to always have their radios when entering a situation like that. He also said it was “inconceivable” that Arredondo and the officers had no plan to access any room or area at any time, given that they were the school district police.
One thing we know for sure is that it took the police an hour and 17 minutes to get to the classroom where Salvadore Ramos was holding children captive. The question remains if there would have been more survivors had they gotten there earlier. Given that a few died on the way to the hospital, it seems like a possibility.
Investigators have been working to determine whether any of those who died could have been saved if they had received medical attention sooner, according to an official with knowledge of the effort. But there is no question that some of the victims were still alive and in desperate need of medical attention. One teacher died in an ambulance. Three children died at nearby hospitals, according to the documents.
Xavier Lopez, 10, was one of the children who died after being rushed to a hospital. His family said he had been shot in the back and lost a lot of blood as he awaited medical attention. “He could have been saved,” his grandfather Leonard Sandoval said. “The police did not go in for more than an hour. He bled out.”
It seems like there ought to be some consequences for this, for the fact that the school district police were not prepared, for the fact that this disorganization and incompetence likely led to loss of life here, but it's unlikely that there will be.
The United States is not big on regulations. In many cases, rather than regulating industries or services or corporations in any meaningful way, we allow those who can prove they were harmed by those entities to file civil lawsuits against them after the fact. We're not going to tell McDonald's, "Oh, you can't serve coffee over a certain temperature," we just let them do what they want until someone's leg gets halfway burnt off and then they sue, and then we widely mock that person for being a stupid litigious baby who is destroying our country with foolish lawsuits just because they can't handle some third degree burns in their pelvic region and want poor McDonald's to pay for their skin grafts. That is how America works. It's not a great system. Some of us might even say it is bad! But it's how we've chosen to do things.
Except when it comes to the police. For the most part, we can't sue the police for failing to provide the service we pay them for. Not only are they protected from lawsuits due to "qualified immunity" but the Supreme Court has ruled that they have no constitutional duty to protect individuals from harm.
On June 22, 1999, at 5:15 p.m., in Castle Rock, Colorado, Simon Gonzalez kidnapped his three daughters while they were playing in their front yard — violating a domestic violence order of protection against him filed by his estranged wife Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales during divorce proceedings. He was required to stay a minimum of 100 yards away from her and their children and only allowed to have supervised visitation. Lenahan-Gonzales spent the rest of that evening desperately calling 911, trying to get the police to do something, and they decided they'd rather not bother.
At 3 a.m., Simon Gonzalez finally brought the girls to the police station, dead in the back of his truck. He shot at police and died himself in the shootout.
Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales sued the police department for failing to enforce her restraining order. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 2005 Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Breyer, found that the police had no constitutional duty to enforce that. Scalia wrote in the majority opinion that "a well-established tradition of police discretion has long coexisted with apparently mandatory arrest statutes." Meaning that the police may decide, at their own discretion, whether or not to enforce a restraining order. It also found that the police have no duty to protect "individuals."
Another court returned a similar verdict in 2018, tossing out a lawsuit filed by over a dozen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who said that county officials should have done more to protect them.
Now, to be fair, a fact check over on NBC, published in light of the conduct of the officers during the Uvalde shooting, claims that these rulings do not actually mean the police have no duty to protect "the public" or "the community" (notice the use of "community" and "public" rather than "individuals"), just that people have no right to sue them if they don't. The fact check notes that police officers have to put their hand on a Bible and swear that they will protect and serve the public. We gather this means that although they will likely face zero consequences during this life, they will be sent directly to hell after they die if they violate it.
So as disturbing as these reports are, it's important to remember that we can't really do anything about police forces who fuck up in this way, and that those whose children may have died because a policeman who took over an hour to get to where the suspect was thought he wouldn't be able to run super fast if he had a radio attached to his belt. The only recourse available to us is really to just give them more of our money and hope that makes them feel grateful enough and valued enough to do their jobs.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse