UVALDE, Texas — Uvalde City Council unanimously voted to deny Councilmember Pete Arredondo a leave of absence from the governing body—setting up his potential departure if the embattled school district police chief misses the next two meetings.
Mayor Don McLaughlin later confirmed Arredondo requested the leave of absence himself. City Council deliberated and voted on the request early in Tuesday’s meeting, and was met with applause from community members in the audience, many of whom made passionate pleas for the council to reconsider the leave of absence just minutes before.
Arredondo has not appeared at either of the two council meetings held since his private swearing-in a week after the Robb massacre, including Tuesday’s meeting. The council could declare his seat vacant if he misses three straight; the next is scheduled for July 5.
A day after the Uvalde CISD School Board heard from numerous passionate residents calling for accountability, City Council received a similar round of urges from the community—including relatives of the Robb Elementary students who died on May 24.
On Tuesday night, those community members urged for the mayor and other council representatives to do more than grant a leave of absence.
“A leave of absence for Pete is not enough," Brett Cross, the uncle of a Robb Elementary victim, said during the meeting's public comments portion. “Everyone needs to be held accountable. Pete for his inaction, every other officer who didn’t do a damn thing and every one of you who stands idly by.”
After about 10 members of the public spoke, Councilmember Ernest King III motioned not to grant the leave of absence. The vote swiftly followed.
The mayor, meanwhile, also vowed to fight for the community, telling those in attendance that he was "just as fed up" when it came to a lack of transparency and saying he was planning to "throw people under the bus" during a prepared statement following the meeting.
The meeting is being held amid growing scrutiny for Arredondo and the law enforcement response he led at Robb in May.
Texas DPS director Steve McCraw said shortly after the shooting that Arredondo was the on-scene incident commander at Robb Elementary, and that he incorrectly treated law enforcement's response as a barricaded suspect situation rather than an active shooter.
On Tuesday in testimony before the Texas House committee investigating the shooting, McCraw singled out Arredondo as he said that law enforcement's response was an "abject failure" that "set the profession back a decade."
"The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who placed the lives of officers before the lives of children," said McCraw, who testified that the shooter could have been neutralized in three minutes.
Instead, it took 77 minutes for officers to finally breach the classroom and engage the shooter. In that time, students and a teacher were injured and calling 911 for help.
Recent reporting states that at 11:40 a.m., seven minutes after the shooter entered the building, Arredondo called Uvalde PD and asked for help. He did not have his radio.
"It's an emergency right now," he reportedly said. "We have him in the room. He's got an AR-15. He's shot a lot. They need to be outside the building prepared because we don't have fire power right now. It's all pistols."
Officers are trained to engage the shooter immediately, regardless of their own equipment, even if it means risking their own lives.
Security footage shows that officers with rifles and at least one ballistic shield arrived in the hallway by 11:52. Officers did not breach or even attempt to open the door, which authorities now believe was unlocked the entire time, for another 58 minutes.
“You don’t wait for a SWAT team. You have one officer, that’s enough,” McCraw said. He also confirmed that the first shield arrived less than 20 minutes after the shooter entered.
At a school board meeting on Monday, family members of several victims who died at Robb Elementary called for Uvalde CISD to fire Arredondo.
“Having Pete still employed, knowing he is incapable of decision-making that saves lives, is terrifying,” Brett Cross told trustees during a public comment period before the meeting moved behind closed-doors. He helped raise his nephew, Uziyah Garcia, who was killed in the shooting.
“We were failed by Pete Arredondo,” Cross said. “He failed our kids, teachers, parents and city. By keeping him on your staff, y’all are continuing to fail us.”
Cross said that he tried to petition to have Arredondo removed from city council, but due to the city's charter, he can't do that until he's been in office for at least eight months.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin is expected to speak after the city council meeting Tuesday night.