The head of the Uvalde school district police force – who oversaw the response to the school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers were killed last month in Texas – has been suspended.
Wednesday’s announcement came a day after the head of Texas’ public safety department called the police response to the May 24 attack on the Robb Elementary School an “abject failure”.
Local police have been under intense scrutiny since it emerged that as many as 19 officers waited for an hour outside a pair of adjoining classrooms where the shooting was taking place and did nothing as children lay dead or dying inside.
A tactical team from the US Border Patrol finally gained entry and killed the teenage gunman.
Police practice generally is to immediately confront a school attacker, even if it puts officers’ lives in danger.
“From the beginning of this horrible event, I shared that the district would wait until the investigation was complete before making personnel decisions,” Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said in a statement.
“Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief (Pete) Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date.”
The attack on the primary school, which will now be demolished, rocked the United States and once again revived the debate about gun violence. The US Senate now appears to be close to passing the country’s first major gun control legislation in decades.
Arredondo, 49, has previously said he did not consider himself the commander in charge at the scene of the attack and that he did not order officers to hold back. But he said officers could not find a key to unlock the door until 77 minutes after the shooting began.
His lawyer, George Hyde, told the Texas Tribune another one of the local, state or federal agencies to arrive on the scene should have taken over command.
But Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Arredondo was in charge and made “terrible decisions” that cost valuable time. He labelled the response “an abject failure”.
McCraw told a Texas Senate hearing on Tuesday that the door was unlocked and there was no evidence officers tried to see if it was secured while others searched for a key. Meanwhile, at least two children inside used their mobile phones to call for help.
Earlier on Wednesday, Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, sued the state’s Department of Public Safety for access to the complete records of the shooting, saying the response to the massacre “has been full of misinformation and outright lies” from the start.