Uvalde district suspends school police department amid protests after shooting

Uvalde district suspends school police department amid protests after shooting

HOUSTON — Uvalde’s school district has suspended its police force, which has faced escalating criticism over its response to the deadly shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers in May.

“As a result of the recent developments, Lt. Miguel Hernandez and Ken Mueller have been placed on administrative leave, and the district has made the decision to suspend all activities of the Uvalde CISD Police Department for a period of time,” the district said in a statement Friday, noting Mueller would retire and other officers will “fill other roles in the district.”

Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers will be stationed at Uvalde schools and extracurricular activities, the statement said, noting, “We are confident that staff and student safety will not be compromised during this transition.”

It wasn’t clear how long the school police department would be suspended. A district spokeswoman did not return calls or emails.

The district didn’t specify what prompted the decision, but the announcement came a day after officials said they had fired school police officer Crimson Elizondo. CNN reported Elizondo had been hired despite still being under investigation for her conduct during the massacre, when she was employed by DPS. The decision to hire Elizondo had sparked outrage among victims’ parents.

“We are deeply distressed by the information that was disclosed yesterday evening concerning one of our recently hired employees, Crimson Elizondo,” the school district said in a letter released after the firing. “We sincerely apologize to the victim’s families and the greater Uvalde community for the pain that this revelation has caused.”

Elizondo was the first DPS trooper to enter the hallway at Robb Elementary School after the shooter, but did not bring her rifle or protective vest, according to an internal review reported by ABC News.

As a result of potential failure to follow standard procedures, she was among seven DPS staff who had been suspended while being investigated by the agency’s inspector general, ABC reported. Elizondo resigned from DPS to work for Uvalde school police, meaning she was no longer subject to internal discipline or penalties by the state agency.

The Uvalde school district did not say when Elizondo was hired, but they said at a school board meeting on Aug. 8 that “four officers have been recommended for hire.” It’s unclear if Elizondo was one of them.

Shooting victims’ relatives have been gathering outside the school district administration building for more than a week to protest school police.

Javier Cazares, father of 9-year-old victim Jacklyn Cazares, called suspension of the school police force, “one of the battles that have been won.”

“At the same time, it should have been sooner,” he said. “It’s a small battle. There’s a lot more to do.”

Cazares, who’s running for county commission, said families are committed to holding local and state leaders responsible in the wake of the shooting, even as some neighbors who see them protesting urge them to give up.

“The people who say that are the ones who’ve not been affected. Yesterday, a truck driver opened his window and said ‘Y’all move on.’ We can’t move on. Our babies are gone,” Cazares said. “It’s a fight that we can never stop. We can’t even properly grieve because we’re doing this. It’s depressing that they have that attitude: We’re doing it for their kids.”

Cazares said he plans on Monday to attend the next school board meeting, where he expects this week’s announcements to be discussed.

“More stuff is coming to light, and there’s still a lot more,” he said, including improvements to school windows, doors and locks. “There’s still a lot of stuff that needs to be done that they promised.”

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D), who represents the Uvalde area, credited victims’ relatives — especially Brett Cross, who raised his nephew, Uziyah Garcia, 10, like a son, and camped outside Uvalde school offices to protest — with forcing the district to act . Parents and other relatives have held marches in the small South Texas town, filed grievances and spoken at countless school board meetings, demanding accountability.

“Uvalde families have gotten nothing from their own government but lies, misinformation, and a complete disregard for their welfare,” Gutierrez said in a Friday statement. “Thanks to the persistence of Brett Cross and all of the Uvalde families, a step toward accountability has been made today. UCID has suspended its officers. This cannot be the end; we still need full transparency and justice from every agency and every level of government that failed us in Uvalde.”

Adam Martinez, whose 8-year-old son survived the shooting, was outside the school administration building with Cross on Friday, protesting, when he heard the news that the school police had been suspended.

“That’s what basically caused this to happen,” he said of the protests.

But Martinez said suspending the school police wasn’t enough corrective action. After the shooting, he filed a grievance with the Uvalde school board against the superintendent, but no action was taken. Martinez wants the superintendent removed, too.

“Ultimately, he was the person that was in charge of overseeing the hire and he allowed that hire to happen,” Martinez said of Elizondo, the former DPS trooper. “He allowed many of these things to happen. The first question you ask when you hire a police officer to take care of these kids should be was this police officer on the scene when this happened? Please do not put anyone at that school who was there at that time.”

Martinez said it shouldn’t matter whether the superintendent knew Elizondo’s record: “Either way: If he didn’t know, shame on him. If he did know, shame on him.”

Martinez said his son Zayon is still coping with trauma from the shooting, going to school at home, where he’s spooked by small sounds, like the dog scraping at the door.

“I talked to my wife about it today, and we’re going to put him in counseling. There’s a lot of things that trigger him,” Martinez said.

But he said the district’s announcements this week, combined with the earlier departure of Pete Arredondo, former Uvalde school police chief and city council member, encouraged him and other families.

“As we’ve continued to stay strong and go to the meetings and voice our opinions, it has made a difference,” Martinez said. “At first, people say nothing’s going to change. In Uvalde, there’s a status quo. Now, I hope people see things can change. We just have to stay strong, united and not give up.”

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