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The Morning Dispatch: What Does Accountability for Uvalde Police Look Like?
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The Morning Dispatch: What Does Accountability for Uvalde Police Look Like?

As law enforcement has revised many elements of its initial narrative of the shooting, it's become clearer that more deaths may have resulted from their failure to follow best practices.

Happy Thursday! If any of our readers are bigwigs at the Coca-Cola Co., please reconsider your decision to discontinue Honest Tea at the end of 2022. It fuels this newsletter.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The White House announced Wednesday that, starting June 9, United Airlines will fly 3.7 million bottles worth of baby formula from Europe to the United States. The U.S. baby formula shortage has worsened, going from a typical pandemic-era out-of-stock rate of 11 percent to 23 percent in the week ending May 22, according to market research firm IRI. Food and Drug Administration head Robert Califf said it could be weeks before an Abbott formula plant shuttered for safety violations can reopen.

  • The U.S. trade representative’s office launched a new bilateral economic pact with Taiwan on Wednesday to promote trade, clean energy, workers’ rights, and anti-corruption standards. These elements are similar to the contents of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework President Joe Biden announced with several nations in the region last week, but that framework excluded Taiwan in an effort to encourage maximum participation from countries wary of upsetting China.

  • The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a $700 million military aid package for Ukraine that includes four advanced guided-rocket systems—armed for a 48-mile range instead of the 75-mile range Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested. The West has avoided giving Ukraine long-range weapons systems that would enable strikes on Russian territory to prevent escalation; Zelensky claimed this week Ukraine would refrain from doing so. He also emphasized that Ukraine will not concede territory for a peace deal.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday that U.S. job openings remained near record highs at the end of April, when there were 11.4 million unfilled jobs nationwide, down from 11.9 million a month earlier. The quits rate—the percentage of workers who quit their job during the month—remained unchanged at a near-record 2.9 percent as well, though many of these workers quit for different or better opportunities.

  • A grand jury on Wednesday indicted the 18-year-old white man accused of killing 10 black people at a Buffalo supermarket last month on a state domestic terrorism and hate crime charge. The alleged shooter has also been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, and three counts of attempted murder, among other things.

  • In the wake of that shooting, New York lawmakers plan to pass a package of bills by the end of this week that would raise the legal age to purchase an AR-15 rifle from 18 to 21 and require a license. It would also ban civilians from buying body armor, strengthen “red flag” laws, and make threatening mass harm a crime, among other measures. “New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but clearly we need to make them even stronger,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced a $2.1 billion plan to strengthen U.S. food supply chains by supporting more meat processing plants, training workers, and building regional food business centers to boost small and midsize farms, among other steps.

  • Chinese officials claim new COVID-19 case numbers are dropping after months of strict lockdowns, and most of Shanghai’s 25 million residents were released from lockdown Wednesday. Some celebrated with fireworks and parties, though manufacturers including Tesla and Volkswagen will continue to isolate workers. China, however, is continuing to pursue its COVID-zero policies in cities around the country.

  • John Hinckley, Jr.—the man who attempted to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981—is set to be unconditionally released from all remaining restrictions on June 15 after a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman on Wednesday. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals over the past several decades.

‘Please Send the Police Now’

Steven C. McCraw, director and colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks at a press conference last Friday. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.)

At 12:03 p.m. last Tuesday, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary called 911 to let the police know there was a gunman at the school, in Room 112. He’d been terrorizing the children in that classroom and adjoining Room 111 for half an hour at that point—killing their two teachers in front of them, turning on hauntingly “sad” music, telling the kids it was “time to die”—and the surviving student was desperate. Many of his or her classmates had already been killed or were bleeding out, but several were still alive, hiding from the deranged 18-year-old and his AR-15-style rifle. One little girl—one of the lucky ones—took blood from her dead friend and smeared it over herself, in the hopes that the shooter would think she was dead, too. 

The student called 911 again at 12:10 p.m. And 12:13 p.m. And 12:16 p.m. And 12:36 p.m. And 12:43 p.m. And 12:46 p.m. “Please send the police now,” the student begged. Little did the student know, 19 police officers—one for every child who died that day—were already standing outside the classroom. And they had been for nearly an hour.

It was clear within hours of the Uvalde massacre that local law enforcement officials were not being entirely forthcoming with the public about how that afternoon’s atrocities played out. We knew 21 people were murdered, we knew the murder weapon, and we knew the murderer was dead. But we didn’t have many details about what actually happened between 11:28 a.m.—when the gunman first crashed the truck he was driving onto school property—and 12:50 p.m., when an elite Border Patrol tactical unit breached the classroom and killed him. As we noted in a TMD last week, spokesmen for the Texas Department of Public Safety had issued several pieces of contradictory information.

What last week was considered “contradictory” can today be labeled something else: false. The shooter did not have to outgun a school security officer on his way into the building; no school security officer was present and the gunman “walked in unobstructed.” He didn’t enter the school through a back door propped open by a teacher; the door was closed, but for some reason, it “did not lock as it should.” And perhaps most importantly, police officers did not “engage immediately” with the shooter when they arrived at the school; the gunman was essentially left alone in a classroom full of children for more than an hour as distraught parents who had gathered outside the school begged law enforcement to do something.

Since the Columbine rampage in 1999, law enforcement officials have been trained to engage active shooters as quickly as possible, not to wait for tactical units to arrive. “If we go back to Columbine, the response was [to] wait for SWAT, SWAT goes in and takes care of it,” Grant Whitus—the former SWAT team member who led the response to that massacre—told ABC 7 News in Denver. “The lessons learned there is why we’ve taught for 23 years, don’t make the same mistake we made.”

The officer in charge this time around—Peter Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD)—reportedly completed an eight-hour training in mid-December (and in August 2020) that, according to a curriculum posted on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement website, teaches officers that time is “the number one enemy” during an active shooter response.

“The short duration and high casualty rates produced by these events requires immediate response to reduce the loss of life,” the document reads. “In many cases that immediate response means a single (solo) officer response until such times as other forces can arrive. The best hope that innocent victims have is that officers immediately move into action to isolate, distract or neutralize the threat, even if that means one officer acting alone.”

But Arredondo wasn’t alone—the incident commander had nearly two dozen officers inside the school. A handful of arriving officers tried to engage the shooter immediately after he entered the school, but a few received grazing gunshot wounds and none followed him into the classroom. By the time additional personnel were on the scene, the shooter had already done most—but not all—of his damage.

“I’m not defending anything,” Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) Director Steven McCraw—who wasn’t present during the massacre—told reporters in a chaotic press conference on Friday. “But you go back to the timeline: There was a barrage, hundreds of rounds were pumped [into those two classrooms] in four minutes, okay? Then any firing afterwards was sporadic and it was at the door. So the belief is that there may not be anybody living anymore, and that the subject is now trying to keep law enforcement at bay, or entice them to come in to suicide by contact.”

“[Arredondo] was convinced at the time that there was no more threat to the children and that the subject was barricaded, and that they had time to organize with the proper equipment to go in,” an emotional McCraw continued. “Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that.”

Right or wrong, Arredondo—who was sworn in as a Uvalde city council member on Tuesday but hasn’t spoken publicly about the shooting in more than a week—decided to wait for a better-equipped Border Patrol Tactical Unit to arrive before engaging. That team reportedly began to reach the school around 12:15 p.m., but its members didn’t breach the classroom and kill the gunman until 12:50 p.m., opting to find a janitor with keys for the locked door rather than breaking it down themselves.

“In retrospect, from where I’m sitting right now, clearly there were kids in the room,” McCraw said Friday. “They were at risk. There may be kids that … have been shot [and] injured, and it’s important for life-saving purposes to immediately get there and render aid.” The TDPS official said the two students who repeatedly called 911 throughout the afternoon ultimately survived the attack, but we may never know how many other children could have, had law enforcement acted sooner. Studies have shown badly injured patients generally need to be transported to emergency rooms within 60 minutes—“the golden hour”—to have any real shot at survival.

McCraw isn’t the only law enforcement official who has sought this week to apportion blame for the department’s lackluster response. One police officer—who was stationed outside the school during the shooting and dealing with grieving parents—spoke with People Magazine on the condition of anonymity to express his frustration with Arredondo’s leadership during the attack. “Little kids died and maybe we could’ve done something to save them,” he said, claiming he and his colleagues felt like “cowards” and nearly mutinied. “There’s a f—ing gunman in the school, we hear gunshots, and we’re just going to stand here with our thumbs up our a—-? We wanted to go in and save lives. It was the most frustrating situation of my entire career.”

The Justice Department announced Sunday it will conduct a Critical Incident Review of the police response in an effort to provide an “independent account” of what happened and “identify lessons learned” for future such atrocities. The Texas Department of Public Safety is looking into what happened as well, but a TDPS spokesman told ABC News on Tuesday that, although Arredondo provided an initial interview to investigators, he had “not responded to a request for a follow-up” made two days earlier. Confronted by a CNN reporter on Wednesday, Arredondo said he was talking to the TDPS “every day,” and that he would “eventually” address McCraw’s accusations publicly, but not while his community’s wounds were so fresh.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas expressed similar sentiments last week. “The second guessing and finger pointing among state and local law enforcement is destructive, distracting, and unfair,” he tweeted. “Complex scenarios require split second decisions. Easy to criticize with 20-20 hindsight.”

But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’s “livid” about being initially misled about the police action, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw—also of Texas—believes there should “definitely” be accountability for the delayed response. “I know better than most not to necessarily judge the person who’s walking through the breach and is in that moment in the arena, but it does seem clear that protocols were not followed,” the Navy SEAL veteran said on Sunday. “We have very clear training doctrine on this. The situation changes for a barricaded shooter if there are innocents inside. You have to put away your sense of self-preservation and go through that door.”

“The fact that it took Border Patrol an hour later to come in and actually do the job for the police, I think, is pretty embarrassing for a lot of the local police officers,” he continued. “So we are going to see how this plays out, but there should definitely be accountability.”

Worth Your Time

  • For a good-faith debate about what “common sense” gun legislation should look like, check out the latest episode of The Argument, featuring Jane Coaston, Charlie Cooke, and Alex Kingsbury. “If we thought of mass shooting events in the same way that we think about terrorism, as a very rare thing that we also work very hard to prevent, and we’ve spent billions of dollars on preventing, and we have people who all they do is think about how to prevent this from happening, and we do limit the civil liberties of people in order to stop this from happening, and we consider success to be it didn’t happen, does that change how we think about this?” Coaston asks. Cooke replies: “There are some ways that we can try to deal with this, and we should. But we should do it primarily for suicide and crime, and hope that helps mass shootings at the margin.”

  • Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t released in China due to its celebration of the American military and recognition of Taiwan, Sonny Bunch notes in the Washington Post, but its blockbuster opening weekend should convince Hollywood executives they don’t need to cater to Communist Party censors in Beijing. “​​The success of Top Gun: Maverick, the two most recent Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures, and other productions that have eschewed Chinese censorship such as Quentin Tarantino’s opus Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood suggests that Hollywood has less to fear from losing the Chinese marketplace than it might have thought,” Bunch writes. “And, perhaps just as important, America’s movie studios can reclaim the moral high ground as champions of American values at home, and the outlaw quality that makes Hollywood a beacon in unfree societies. Top Gun: Maverick will undoubtedly be seen in China—but as samizdat. Bootleg DVDs and digital files of Pete Mitchell acting like a maverick within the system won’t earn Hollywood much in the way of money. But they will serve as a reminder that one of America’s greatest attributes is our commitment to individual success even in determinedly hierarchical structures.”

  • A Chicago suburban school adopts race-based grading, local news reports. Seems bad! Only it wasn’t true, and the “local news” source seems to be part of a network planting stories for cash, Georgetown University professor Don Moynihan explains, blaming motivated reasoning and the decline of real local news for making this type of scheme easier to get away with. “People want to believe these sorts of stories are not just true, but typical,” Moynihan writes. “‘But of course,’ they type, and retweet. Even after they have been corrected, they might think to themselves, ‘Well, maybe this specific piece was exaggerated, but it is representative of a broader trend.’ The episode is indeed representative and telling, but of something that has gone wrong in our media landscape. … Local journalists with a sense of responsibility to journalistic ethics, their personal reputation, and the community they live in have been replaced by anonymous for-hire freelancers paid crumbs to feed the motivated reasoning beast.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Looking for a break from politics, inflation, mass shootings and, uh, everything else going on today? So is Jonah, and Wednesday’s G-File (🔒) starts with the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and goes from there down a linguistic rabbit hole.

  • Scott devotes his latest Capitolism (🔒) to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and the United States’ decision to withdraw—what he describes as “perhaps the single most boneheaded U.S. policy move of the last decade.” Truly a bold claim, but don’t worry, he’s got lots of graphs to back it up.

  • Can math save democracy? Election law professor Edward Foley and Unite America director Nick Troiano joined Sarah on the Dispatch Podcast this week to discuss reforming primaries with the help of political science, history, and yes—math.

  • A fistful of potential Republican presidential candidates are already raising money and making the rounds in Iowa, but other likely contenders are taking different potential paths toward the presidency. In this week’s edition of The Sweep (🔒), Sarah checks in on Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Mike Pence. Plus: Election updates in San Francisco, Alaska, and Arizona.

  • Alec fact-checked claims about the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting yesterday, and Khaya fact-checked conspiracy theories claiming the Georgia gubernatorial primary was rigged.

Let Us Know

Will law enforcement’s shifting story about the Uvalde shooting change the way you think about police accounts of events going forward? Do you think Arredondo should lose his job, or are McCraw and others placing unfair expectations on him with the benefit of hindsight?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.