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UVALDE — A city police lieutenant who led the department the day it was part of the fiercely criticized response to the worst school shooting in Texas history has been placed on administrative leave, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced Sunday.
Lt. Mariano Pargas’ suspension was the first sign of official fallout after a damning state report released hours earlier found, among other things, the police response disregarded its own active shooter training. Pargas was acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.
The police chief of the school district’s police department is also on leave and has been largely blamed for the delay in confronting the shooter.
On Sunday, a Texas House committee released the most exhaustive account yet of the shooting and law enforcement’s delay in confronting the gunman. The report said 376 law enforcement officers were at the school but were devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman.
“We agree with the Committee’s review of the incident, there was failure of command,” McLaughlin said. “However, we have further questions as to who was responsible for taking command as each agency there had senior level commanders on site.”
The House report was the first so far to criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, while other reports and public accounts placed the blame squarely on Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo for his role as incident commander and other local police who were among the first to arrive.
In the report, officers described confusion about who was in charge at a chaotic, uncoordinated scene during which it took more than an hour for law enforcement to confront the shooter.
Arredondo, one of the first to arrive at the scene, told The Texas Tribune in June that he did not consider himself the incident commander. But an active shooter plan, which Arredondo co-wrote, states the chief will “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”
While Pargas is on administrative leave, the city will investigate whether he was responsible for taking command on May 24 and what specific actions Pargas took to establish that command, McLaughlin said. The city will conduct an internal investigation over the local police department’s actions and policies, the mayor added.
McLaughlin said the city was also releasing body camera footage from the Uvalde police officers who responded to the shooting, saying the community “has waited entirely too long for answers and transparency.”
The mayor said Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee had previously told city officials to hold off on releasing the footage. He said that families of the shooting victims have already reviewed the footage being publicly released.
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Correction, July 18, 2022: This story misstated the names of three officials in Uvalde. The police lieutenant put on administrative leave is Mariano Pargas, not Pagas. The mayor is Don McLaughlin, not McLaughin. The Uvalde County district attorney is Christina Mitchell Busbee, not Christina Mitchell.