UVALDE, Texas – One year since the Robb Elementary School shooting, it remains unclear whether any of the nearly 400 law enforcement officers who responded that fateful May day will be criminally charged for their inaction.
Only five of the 376 peace officers who responded to the massacre have been terminated or resigned while facing possible disciplinary action. None have been criminally charged.
Surveillance footage recorded inside the school showed officers walking around and gathering in the hallway for well over an hour before a tactical team entered the classroom and finally shot and killed the shooter.
Nineteen students and two teachers died in what was one of the deadliest mass shootings in Texas history.
“If the Texas Rangers and the police felt that disciplinary actions were appropriate, then they were probably warranted. It’s harder to say whether criminal investigations are appropriate, but certainly, people who have been in those situations, the victims’ families deserve real answers about what happened and what went wrong that day,” said Alexandra Klein, assistant professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
Klein said investigations of police misconduct are challenging, especially in situations where a lot is happening at once.
She pointed out that law enforcement has a duty to aid the public, but an important caveat exists in Texas.
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that officers do not have to request emergency medical services or provide first aid or treatment if doing so exposes them or someone else to a risk of bodily injury or if officers are injured or physically unable to make the request.
“The Texas Penal Code does permit the opportunity to hold people liable for omissions, a failure to act. But, importantly, there has to be a legal duty in the Texas Penal Code that they are required to follow,” said Klein.
She said that possible charges of injury to a child by omission or child neglect could be in play, but it is difficult to know for sure without having access to the full case file.
“But again, if you have an omission, a failure to act, you have to prove that there’s a legal duty that was breached,” said Klein.
Klein pointed to the pending charges against a Broward County sheriff’s deputy accused of failing to confront the shooter during a 2018 mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Ex-deputy Scot Peterson faces seven counts of child neglect and three counts of culpable negligence and is scheduled to go to trial next week, NBC News and the Associated Press reported.
District Attorney Christina Mitchell, whose district covers both Uvalde and Real Counties, declined requests from KSAT to be interviewed for this story.
Instead, she sent KSAT the same statement she disseminated to the media more than 10 months ago:
On May 24, 2022, nineteen students and two teachers from our loving community were victims of an unspeakable tragedy at Robb Elementary; one that no community should ever experience. Following the tragic event, I, as the district attorney, worked closely with state agencies and the governor’s office to secure state funding and counseling services for our victims, their families and the Uvalde community and I continue in this endeavor. Even as I have refrained from public comment, my office has been in contact with the victims’ families in our effort to assist them with their unbearable loss. My primary duty as the 38th Judicial District Attorney for Real and Uvalde counties is to see that justice is done in a fair and impartial manner to determine if actions in my jurisdiction rise to the level of a felony criminal offense. This review can only occur after all the facts and evidence regarding an event have been gathered properly and responsibly by law enforcement without bias, prejudice, or hasty conclusions. My reluctance to provide any commentary regarding the mass shooting in Uvalde is due to compelling factors. First and foremost, I wanted to respect the victims’ families as they began to bury their loved ones. Their grieving is a tantamount concern of mine. Second, as we have seen, law enforcement and public officials made statements early on to advise the public of the facts of this horrible event in Uvalde. The release of initial information, unfortunately, was based on an investigation which had only just begun. This led to misunderstandings and corrections that only added to the pain and suffering of the victims, families, and our community. Lastly, like all Texas prosecutors, I am ethically prohibited by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct from commenting on any investigation conducted by a law enforcement agency. Specifically, I cannot act in such a manner as to influence a potential juror concerning the merits of a pending matter. Moreover, the Disciplinary Rules prohibit any lawyer in Texas from making a statement outside of court that may be publicly disseminated and that may have the substantial likelihood of prejudicing a court proceeding, including the identity or nature of physical evidence that may be presented in such a proceeding. It is my ethical responsibility to make reasonable efforts to discourage law enforcement from making extrajudicial statements regarding any investigation. Viewed against this backdrop, all I am ethically permitted to say is that there exists an investigation by the Texas Rangers, with the assistance of the FBI, into the mass shooting at Robb Elementary. My goal is to secure justice for the victims, their families, and the citizens of the 38th Judicial District. This goal cannot be accomplished unless there is a thorough investigation buttressed by fairness, integrity and impartiality free from political and media pressures. These are the necessary parameters of an investigation without which I would not be able to then do my job. This investigation has been and will continue to be a top priority of my office as local, state, and federal agencies continue to work together to collect, process, and analyze all the evidence that will hopefully produce a clear understanding of this tragedy. Until this investigation and its review is complete, and all the relevant facts and evidence obtained, I would respectfully call upon the public to remain patient and suspend judgment. It is unfair to those whose conduct is now being investigated or to a community that is still grieving. But primarily, it is unfair to the families of those whose lives, while tragically taken from us on May 24th, will never be forgotten.
Klein said statute of limitation concerns are not yet warranted as most misdemeanors in Texas have a two-year statute of limitations.
Felony charges have a statute of limitations between two years and no expiration date, and Klein points out that some crimes against children have a statute of limitations that extends a full 10 years past the 18th birthday of the victim of the offense.